“Ancient Predator Infected by Parasites: First Discovery in Vertebrate Coprolite”

By | August 11, 2023



Researchers have discovered evidence of ancient parasites in fossilized feces, or coprolites, dating back over 200 million years. The study, published in PLOS ONE, reveals traces of parasitic nematodes and other species in a Late Triassic coprolite found in Thailand. This finding provides insight into the distribution and ecology of parasites in the distant past and expands our understanding of ancient ecosystems. Coprolites are valuable paleontological resources that contribute to our knowledge of ancient food chains and ecosystems. SciTechDaily reported

A recent study published in PLOS ONE has revealed evidence of ancient parasites that once infected an aquatic predator over 200 million years ago. The parasites were found preserved in fossilized feces, known as coprolites. This discovery provides valuable insights into the presence and diversity of parasites in ancient ecosystems.

The study, conducted by Thanit Nonsrirach of Mahasarakham University in Thailand and his colleagues, highlights the challenges of studying ancient parasites due to the scarcity of fossil records. Unlike bones or shells, parasites mainly inhabit the soft tissues of their hosts, which rarely preserve as fossils. However, in some cases, traces of parasites can be identified within coprolites.

In this particular study, the researchers examined a coprolite from the Late Triassic period, which is over 200 million years old, found in the Huai Hin Lat Formation of Thailand. The coprolite, measuring over 7cm in length, is believed to have been produced by a species of phytosaur, a crocodile-like predator known from the same fossil locality.

Microscopic analysis of thin sections of the coprolite revealed the presence of six small, round organic structures, ranging from 50 to 150 micrometers in length. One of these structures, an oval-shaped object with a thick shell, was identified as the egg of a parasitic nematode worm. The researchers also noted the presence of other worm eggs or protozoan cysts of uncertain identity.

This discovery marks the first record of parasites in a terrestrial vertebrate host from the Late Triassic period in Asia. It provides a rare glimpse into the life of an ancient animal that was infected by multiple parasitic species. Furthermore, the finding contributes to the limited knowledge of nematode eggs preserved within coprolites of Mesozoic animals, expanding our understanding of the distribution and ecology of parasites in the distant past.

The authors of the study emphasize the significance of coprolites as a valuable source of paleontological information, containing undiscovered fossils that enhance our understanding of ancient ecosystems and food chains.

Reference: Nonsrirach, T., Morand, S., Ribas, A., Manitkoon, S., Lauprasert, K., & Claude, J. (2023). First discovery of parasite eggs in a vertebrate coprolite of the Late Triassic in Thailand. PLOS ONE, 15(8), e0287891. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0287891..