First bone-cracking dog coprolites provide new insight into bone consumption in borophagus and their unique ecological niche

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Abstract

Borophagine canids have long been hypothesized to be North American ecological ‘avatars’ of living hyenas in Africa and Asia, but direct fossil evidence of hyena-like bone consumption is hitherto unknown. We report rare coprolites (fossilized feces) of Borophagus parvus from the late Miocene of California and, for the first time, describe unambiguous evidence that these predatory canids ingested large amounts of bone. Surface morphology, micro-CT analyses, and contextual information reveal (1) droppings in concentrations signifying scent-marking behavior, similar to latrines used by living social carnivorans; (2) routine consumption of skeletons; (3) undissolved bones inside coprolites indicating gastrointestinal similarity to modern striped and brown hyenas; (4) B. parvus body weight of ~24 kg, reaching sizes of obligatory large-prey hunters; and (5) prey size ranging ~35–100 kg. This combination of traits suggests that bone-crushing Borophagus potentially hunted in collaborative social groups and occupied a niche no longer present in North American ecosystems.

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Wang, X., White, S. C., Balisi, M., Biewer, J., Sankey, J., Garber, D., & Tseng, Z. J. (2018). First bone-cracking dog coprolites provide new insight into bone consumption in borophagus and their unique ecological niche. ELife, 7. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.34773.001

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