Coprolites are ichnofossils that provide important information about an animal’s diet and habitat.The fossils are remains or traces of living organisms that lived in the past and that, somehow, were preserved. These structures provide great information about the evolution of living beings and the conditions of the environment for thousands of years.
The remains of an organism can be caught, teeth marks, eggs, tunnels, galleries and even excrement. These traces of biological activity are called ichnofossils and, despite not being the remains of an organism, they prove that a certain living being existed in that place.
An extremely important category of ichnofossils is excrement, that is, the feces of an animal. Fossilized droppings are called coprolites , a word originated from the Greek cropos = feces + litos = stone.
The importance of coprolites is immense, as they bring several clues about an animal and the environment in which it lived. By analyzing the feces, a paleontologist can obtain information about the eating behavior of this organism, the place where he lived, possible diseases caused by parasites and even the anatomy of the digestive system.
Analyzing the contents of the feces, one can differentiate an herbivorous organism from a carnivore, for example. In addition, if the animal has eaten vegetables, this excrement can provide information about what the local flora was like, allowing a reconstruction of the paleoenvironment. Some studies have already found fragments of DNA preserved in the coprolites, which facilitates genetic and evolutionary studies.
It is worth noting, however, that, despite containing important information about the organisms that originated them, finding out what animal the feces are found from is a very complicated task for paleontologists. For this, some scholars relate the shape of the current feces to the preserved material. In addition, the researcher must be very careful not to confuse these structures with other fossils.