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The poop on dinos.

When fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda stumbled on broken-up white blobs protruding from mud in Saskatchewan, Canada, she had no idea what she'd stepped on. But she dug up the stuff and soon got an answer--dino poop!

The 65-million-year-old dino dung measures 44 cm (17 in.) long, 13 cm (5 in.) high, and 16 cm (6 in.) wide--about as big as a jumbo loaf of bread (see photo below). It contains bone fragments, indicating the dino was a meat eater, or carnivore, in fact, it's the biggest piece of carnivore coprolite, or fossilized dung, ever unearthed.

The king-sized lump may have been the by-product of the king of dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex. "When we compare the size of the coprolite with the size of carnivores that lived in the area at the same time, we find that the dung was most likely produced by a T. rex," says Karen Chin, a paleobiologist (scientist studying prehistoric life) who specializes in coprolites.

The discovery has scientists rethinking exactly how the dino king lived and ate. Scientists assumed meat-eating dinos, like modern-day reptiles, didn't chew but rather swallowed whole chunks of flesh and bone. That's because their teeth weren't equipped for grinding. Dino teeth constantly fell out and grew back in. While a dino's sharp teeth could easily grab prey, they couldn't efficiently chew it. So the presence of so many broken-up bones in the dino dung surprised Chin.

How did a non-chewing dinosaur crush bones? Anatomist Gregory Erickson at Stanford University conducted an experiment a couple of years ago that measured how much force a T. rex's bite exerted. His findings suggest a dino chomp could easily pulverize bones, which may explain the bone fragments. "We think the T. rex bit down on a carcass and the bones shattered, and then it swallowed them along with the flesh," Chin says. There you have it: the latest poop on dinos.

RELATED ARTICLE: fast facts: dinosaur dung

* Blood vessels in bone fragments found in the coprolite suggest that a young, plant-eating dino was T. rex's meal.

* Tiny burrows found in other dino dung indicate that dung beetles existed at the time of dinosaurs.

* Food remains found in coprolites include mollusks, teeth, fish scales, and seeds.

THE BIG PICTURE

If a picture is worth a thousand words, in the computer age a picture can be made up of a thousand photos. Programmer Robert Silvers has created new software that produces "photomosaics," using a mass of tiny photos to create a single composite image, like the one above of Star Wars' legendary Yoda. How does the program work?

Silvers starts by selecting small images to create the big picture. For Yoda, he chose movie stills from Star Wars; for Life magazine's 60th-anniversary issue he created an image of actress Marilyn Monroe using the magazine's past covers.

Once Silvers chooses his subjects, the software does the rest. It sorts photos by color and brightness, then attempts to fit each photo into different positions to recreate the larger, digitized image. Darker photos form shadows and lighter ones produce brightness. Result: a composite picture that floats through the tiny photo tiles. Get the picture?
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes information on coprolite; fossilized dinosaur dung
Author:Chang, Maria L.
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 5, 1998
Words:523
Previous Article:Winning tips: are you ready to present your science project?
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