A 20-million-year-old fossil found last October near Charleston is being called “an ancient marvel,” because it reportedly shows ancient sharks may have been avid poop eaters.
The fossil is a coprolite – the scientific term for fossilized poop – and it includes a snapped off shark’s tooth and teeth marks.
It was found by professional scuba diver Mark Stitzer who immediately suspected the three-ounce brown and black stone was unique, media outlets report.
He was right.
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The fossil will be on display Jan. 27 through May 6 at the Florida Museum of Natural History, as part of an exhibit focused on the scientific puzzle of animal droppings, both modern and ancient.
The South Carolina discovery has caused a poop storm of a sorts on the internet, after a report in Earth Touch News Network noted it is unlike anything ever found before in the study of coprolites.
George Frandsen, the specialist and collector of coprolites, studied Stitzer’s fossil and he said he found evidence of bite marks. That suggests an ancient shark was scavenging on crocodile poop. It also shows the tooth came into contact with the feces after it was passed by the crocodile.
He said the fossil tells an amazing story of a specific moment.
“The unique hallmarks of this coprolite illustrate that a crocodilian pooped 33 to 22 million years ago, and that a Carcharocles angustidens shark took a bite out of that poop, but did not digest it,” Fransden said on his web site Poozeum.com. “The shark left behind a tooth, as well as a bite mark impression in that poop.”
He says some of the finest coprolite specimens in the world come from the river beds and coasts of South Carolina.
Coprolites are relatively rare and coprolites with unique markings or identifiable inclusions (think modern-day peanuts and corn) are exceptionally rare, he said on Poozeum.com.
“A single coprolite specimen with both unique identifiable markings and a spectacular recognizable inclusion were unknown to the world… until now.”
His museum of coprolites is called the Poozeum, by the way.
While there is no doubt a shark’s tooth is embedded in the fossil, not all experts are convinced it proves ancient sharks ate the stuff.
Samantha Leigh of the University of California, Irvine, studies the digestive systems of marine organisms, and she told Earth Touch News that she doesn't know of any modern-day sharks that dine on droppings.
She also offered an alternative explanation for this shark-bit coprolite.
“There are some sharks that feed on prey items that live primarily on the sea floor,” she told Earth Touch News, “So I imagine sharks do (at least incidentally) consume some feces.”
Paleontologists believe the majority of these coprolites were created by some type of ancient crocodilian that had an extremely acidic digestive system for breaking down bones and scales of their prey, according to the Poozeum.