Student View
Article

PREHISTORIC POOP COPROLITES (like this one) are fossilized poop. “Coprolites are great because you can pull them apart and see what their producer had for their last meal,” says Benton. This is the longest coprolite ever found. It came from a T. rex. It’s over a yard long and full of giant chunks of bone!

Courtesy of ©I.M. Chait (coprolite); Science Photo Library/Newscom (T. rex)

STANDARDS

CCSS: 8.EE.A.4, MP5, MP6, MP7

TEKS: 8.2C

Funky Fossils

Archaeologists have found fossils of everything from dinosaurs’ dandruff to a school of fish!

You can’t go to a natural history museum without seeing at least one enormous dinosaur skeleton on display. Although fossils of dinosaurs like T. rex are huge attractions, scientists have found fossils of many other things—some of which may surprise you!

If you’ve ever been to a natural history museum, you’ve probably seen an enormous dinosaur skeleton on display. Fossils of dinosaurs like T. rex are a popular attraction. But scientists have also found fossils of many other things—some of which may surprise you! 

Courtesy of Hiroshi Nishimoto

DINO DANDRUFF: You can’t see it here, but nestled near this dinosaur’s limbs are tiny flakes of dandruff. Benton’s team was studying its feathers and saw the small flakes. They cranked up the magnification, and the cells matched what we see in modern skin!

“A fossil is the remains of something that was once alive, plant or animal,” says paleontologist Mike Benton of the University of Bristol.

Typically, a fossil of a skeleton forms when an animal dies and its bones are covered with small particles called sediment. As time passes, the sediment around the bone turns to rock, and the bone dissolves. This leaves behind a mold that fills with minerals. The minerals harden in the shape of the original bone, forming a fossil. But if conditions are just right, fossils of more fragile material can be preserved too—from feathers to fish scales to poop!

“A fossil is the remains of something that was once alive, plant or animal,” says Mike Benton. He’s a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England. 

Fossils typically form when an animal dies and its skeleton is covered with sediment such as sand or mud. As time passes, the sediment around the bone turns to rock. The bone dissolves, leaving behind a bone-shaped mold. This cavity gradually fills with minerals. The minerals harden in the shape of the original bone, forming a fossil.

Most fossils are bones. But if conditions are just right, fossils of more fragile material can be preserved too. Scientists have found fossils of everything from feathers to fish scales to poop!

Courtesy of N. Mizumoto/S. Miyata/S.C. Pratt

FOSSILIZED FISH: All the fish in this school met their fate together. The limestone slab was found in Wyoming, which used to have many volcanoes. “I think the fish were unlucky and maybe swamped by a sudden fall of volcanic ash,” explains Benton. This perfectly preserved the fish in a school formation.

“Finding a good fossil isn’t hard as long as you do your homework,” explains Benton. Sedimentary rocks, like limestones and sandstones, of the right age can produce excellent fossils anywhere in the world.

Benton would know. He’s part of a team that has been studying fossils of feathered dinosaurs from China. Last year, they found tiny flakes near the feathers of one fossil, which turned out to be dandruff. This discovery confirms that these dinosaurs were more birdlike than reptilian. “This was a fun find,” he says.

“Finding a good fossil isn’t hard as long as you do your homework,” explains Benton. Scientists look for rocks that form from sediment, like limestones and sandstones. If the rocks are the right age, there are often fossils in them, no matter where they are in the world.

Benton would know. He’s part of a team that has been studying fossils of feathered dinosaurs from China. Last year, they found tiny flakes near the feathers of one fossil. It turned out to be dandruff! It showed that these dinosaurs shed their skin more like birds than like reptiles. “This was a fun find,” he says.

Answer the following questions about these weird fossils. When writing in scientific notation, round all the a values to the nearest tenth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Answer the following questions about these weird fossils. When writing in scientific notation, round all the a values to the nearest tenth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

The dinosaur dandruff flakes Benton found are 125,000,000 years old. Express this in scientific notation.

The dinosaur dandruff flakes Benton found are 125,000,000 years old. Express this in scientific notation.

A single piece of dino dandruff is about 0.0015 meters across. What’s that in scientific notation?

A single piece of dino dandruff is about 0.0015 meters across. What’s that in scientific notation?

The smallest fossilized fish in the school was 0.01057 meters long. Express this number in scientific notation.

The smallest fossilized fish in the school was 0.01057 meters long. Express this number in scientific notation.

The limestone slab in which the fish were embedded is about 50,000,000 years old. Express this number in scientific notation.

The limestone slab in which the fish were embedded is about 50,000,000 years old. Express this number in scientific notation.

The largest coprolite found was 0.0440 meters long. What’s that in scientific notation?

The largest coprolite found was 0.0440 meters long. What’s that in scientific notation?

In 2011, scientists found one of the oldest dinosaur “toilets” in Argentina. More than 3 x 105 coprolites were found in one area. What is that in standard form?

In 2011, scientists found one of the oldest dinosaur “toilets” in Argentina. More than 3 x 105 coprolites were found in one area. What is that in standard form?

Google Quiz

Click the Google Quiz button below to share an interactive version of the questions with your class. Click Download PDF for the non-interactive blank answer sheet.

Download PDF
Back to top
videos (2)
videos (2)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Skills Sheets (4)
Lesson Plan (2)
Lesson Plan (2)