In fossilized dinosaur poop, scientists find hidden treasure

This is an anterior view of a 3D model of Triamyxa coprolithica, a 230-million-year-old, previously undiscovered beetle species.

(CNN)You might think fossilized feces are only full of crap, but new research on one specimen has turned up a hidden treasure: a 230-million-year-old, previously undiscovered beetle species.

Named Triamyxa coprolithica, the tiny beetles are also the first insects to be described from fossilized feces -- or coprolites -- and were visible by a scanning method that uses strong X-ray beams, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology. Besides the discovery of the beetles in a coprolite, the scientific name also refers to the Triassic period, which lasted from roughly 252 million to 201 million years ago, and the suborder of bugs called Myxophaga -- small aquatic or semiaquatic beetles that eat algae.
The tiny beetle Triamyxa coprolithica is the first insect to be described from fossil feces, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.
"Insect fossils of this type, preserved in three-dimensions like this, are practically unheard of from the Triassic, so this discovery is very important," said Sam Heads, the director and chief curator of the PRI Center for Paleontology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via email. Heads wasn't involved in the study.
    "I was really amazed to see how well preserved the beetles were, when you modeled them up on the screen, it was like they were looking right at you," said the study's first author Martin Qvarnström, a paleontologist and postdoctoral fellow at Uppsala University, Sweden, in a statement. "This is facilitated by coprolites' calcium phosphatic composition. This together with early mineralization by bacteria likely helped to preserve these delicate fossils."
      Calcium phosphate is critical for bone formation and maintenance, and mineralization is when organic compounds are converted into inorganic compounds during decomposition processes.
        Based on the size, shape and other anatomical features of fossilized droppings analyzed in prior research by the authors of the current study, the scientists concluded the coprolites were excreted by Silesaurus opolensis, a small dinosaur roughly 2 meters (6.6 feet) long that weighed around 15 kilograms (33.1 pounds) and lived in Poland around 230 million years ago during the Triassic age.
        Pictured is an artistic reconstruction of Silesaurus opolensis.
        "Silesaurus possessed a beak at the tip of its jaws that could have been used to root in the litter and perhaps peck insects off the ground, somewhat like modern birds," according to a news release.
          "Although Silesaurus appears to have ingested numerous individuals of Triamyxa coprolithica, the beetle was likely too small to have been the only targeted prey," Qvarnström said. "Instead, Triamyxa likely shared its habitat with larger beetles, which are represented by disarticulated remains in the coprolites, and other prey, which never ended up in the coprolites in a recognizable shape. So it seems likely that Silesaurus was omnivo