Ancient Crocodile-Like Predators Succumbed to Parasitic Threats


Scientists have revealed that although ancient reptile predators that resembled contemporary crocodiles were dangerous hunters, their scaly armor and keen teeth were unable to shield them from parasites.

Recent discoveries by paleontologists show that a reptile that lived between 252 million and 201 million years ago during the Triassic Period had a parasite infestation. 

The creature could have been a phytosaur, a predator with a large snout and small limbs. The parasites were collected from a coprolite, a fossilized excrement deposit, rather than from the teeth or bones of phytosaurs.

About 200 million years old, preserved poop was discovered in Thailand, and when scientists dissected it, they discovered small organic formations that resembled eggs. A deeper examination indicated that the items, which ranged in size from 0.002 to 0.006 inches (50 to 150 micrometers), constituted at least five distinct parasite species.

According to a study published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, this discovery is the first instance of parasites in a terrestrial animal from Asia during the Late Triassic. 

Additionally, the specimen is the first coprolite from this period and location to have nematodes, a kind of parasitic worm that is still alive today. Alligators and crocodiles are among the many mammals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles that harbor modern nematodes, which frequently infect both plants and animals.

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Echoes from History

Thanit Nonsrirach, a vertebrate paleontologist at Mahasarakham University in Kham Riang, Thailand, was the primary research author and said, “Our results give us new ways to think about the environment and way of life of old animals.” 

In a single coprolite, just one set of parasites was discovered in earlier research. The analysis revealed that the animal harbored various parasitic illnesses; however, our new work demonstrates that a single coprolite may carry multiple parasite species.

The coprolite was gathered in 2010 by scientists from the Huai Nam Aun outcrop in northern Thailand. According to Nonsrirach, this would have been a brackish or freshwater lake or pond during the Triassic period that was home to a variety of species, including shark-like fish, turtle ancestors and other reptiles, and early amphibians known as temnospondyls.

He claimed that these circumstances made parasite transmission easier. The cylinder-shaped fossilized poop had dimensions of roughly 0.8 inches (2.1 centimeters) in diameter and 3 inches (7.4 centimeters) in length. 

The surface of the object was “hard, smooth, and gray in color,” according to the study’s authors. In spite of their unimpressive exteriors, coprolites contain information on “who ate whom” in ancient ecosystems, according to paleontologist Martin Qvarnström, a postdoctoral researcher in the organismal biology department at Uppsala University in Sweden. The new study does not include Qvarnström.

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Source: CNN

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