Sunday, February 16, 2014

A prehistoric pee stain

The Surprising Science of Dinosaur Pee
Dinosaurs pooped. The fossil record makes that abundantly clear. Scores of coprolites – fossilized feces – not only allow paleontologists to better understand the diet and ecology of dinosaurs, but let educators pass the mineralized excrement around to students and knowingly ask “Do you know what you’re holding right now?” in the hope of a shocked reaction. But did dinosaurs ever pee? That question hasn’t exactly been at the top of paleontology’s list in terms of dinosaur mysteries. Feeding behavior, colors, sounds, and other biological details carry a bit more prestige. Nevertheless, curious fossils found at two distant locations might record how Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs relieved themselves on lakeshores and sand dunes. 

The first possible dinosaur pee trace to be discovered was described only recently. At a 2002 meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Katherine McCarville and Gale Bishop reported on a strange “bathtub-shaped depression” among dozens of dinosaur tracks just south of La Junta, Colorado. The scour, set in the 150 million year old stone of a long-lost lakeshore, measures approximately ten feet long, five feet wide, and ten inches deep. The shape is similar to splats McCarville and Bishop created by streaming water onto sand.

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