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Dinosaur Poop Is Harder to Find Than It Should Be

Why don't archaeologists find fossilized poop all over the place? In a word: roaches

At one point, there were a lot of dinosaurs roaming around the earth. They definitely pooped. So why don't archaeologists find fossilized scat all over the place?

Paleoscatologists, as they're called, do indeed find and study dinosaur poop. Eliza Strickland at Nautilus Magazine has a profile of one such paleoscatologist, and explains that people like her "study the fossilized excrement of ancient peoples to learn about their diet, health, and lifestyles, and a few others study the fossilized droppings of extinct animals." But considering just how many dinosaurs there were and how much poop they should have produced, some have wondered why there isn't more paleoscat around to study.

Unlike today, where scavengers like dung beetles and flies break down feces, in the Mesozoic, there were relatively few insects that could have done the dirty deed and done it on such a large scale. But, according to a recent study, there is one main culprit for the lack of dino dung—cockroaches.

The researchers found a piece of amber that happened to contain both dinosaur scat and cockroaches. They analyzed the object, looking both at the contents of the poop and what was inside the cockroach. Lo and behold, about one percent of the cockroaches stomachs were filled with pre-digested plant matter—that's plant matter that went through a dinosaur's digestive system before it went through the cockroach's.

The researchers believe their findings indicate that the critters we still see today are the reason paleoscatologists don't have more to work with. Yet another reason to hate cockroaches.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How Dinosaur Poop Got Its Name
Prehistoric Poo Linked Dinosaurs to Snails

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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