Scientists have long believed that an ancient relative of dogs and wolves was able to crush bone with its jaws, and now 14 pieces of fossilized feces have confirmed their hypothesis.
Domestic dogs today love chewing on large bones, but don’t have the strength to pulverize and splinter them.
Scientists had suspected the wolf-sized wild dog Borophagus parvus was capable of crushing and destroying bones after years of analyzing fossils of its jawbone.
The bones share many features with spotted-hyenas, the only living animal able to splinter bones.
Fossilized feces show extinct relatives of dogs and wolves could crush bone. Scientists had suspected the wolf-sized wild dog Borophagus parvus was capable of crushing and destroying bones after years of analyzing fossils of its jawbone
The extinct species lived about 16 million to 2 million years ago.
‘Their skeletal features – such as highly robust skulls and jaws, teeth to withstand high stress, and large muscle-attachment areas for a powerful bite –share many similarities with the spotted hyena,’ the study reads.
‘It is therefore likely that these extinct North American dogs played a similar role in the ecosystem as living hyenas do now.’
In a recent study, researchers discovered fossilized feces, also known as coprolites, which presumably belong to the North American dogs that lived in that lived in central California between 5 to 6 million years ago.
The coprolites preserved ingested bone and so provide more evidence of what this species of dogs ate.
They are much rarer than bones and are thought to be about 2 million years old, the study authors reported.
An artist’s conception of feeding by a pack of bone-crushing dogs of the species Borophagus secundus. The extinct species lived about 16 million to 2 million years ago
A suite of features is commonly associated with bone-crushing adaptations, such as a highly vaulted forehead, shortened rostrum and associated imbrication of premolars
Using micro-CT scans, the researchers were able to discover bone splinters and fragments in all of the feces, making up approximately five percent of its total volume.
The bone fragments were too small to identify the species of animal beyond mammal or vertebrates.
Spotted hyenas can thoroughly digest swallowed bones, so when they poop, they produce small balls of feces that are full of bone powder.
Because the Borophagus poop had fragments of undissolved bone, the extinct dogs may have swallowed the bones like spotted hyenas, they digested them like striped hyenas and brown hyenas, who don’t process bones as efficientlty.
WHAT ARE COPROLITES?
It’s not just bones that can provide a rich history of an ancient creature’s past.
Scientists also use something known as ‘coprolites’ to piece together clues about ancient history.
A coprolite is a fossilised faeces that can provide insight into the diet and environment of animals millions of years ago.
Copro means ‘dung,’ from the Greek word kopros.
The ending ‘-lite’ is a common ending for fossil or mineral terms, coming from the Greek word lithos, which means stone
The prehistoric faeces becomes hardened over time and can sometime resemble the those of species alive today.
Coprolites do not smell and are filled with mineral deposits like calcium carbonates.
Faeces typically decays quickly and so coprolites are rare to find.
The largest known ancient coprolite came from a T. rex and is known as the ‘Saskatchewan coprolite’ after the location in Canada where it was found. The
At over 30cm long, scientists believe the T.rex would have been the only carnivorous beast big enough to produce such a specimen.