First discovery of fossil dung beetle brood balls and nests in the Chadian Pliocene Australopithecine levels

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Abstract

The Pliocene continental formations of the paleo-lake Chad system are known because of the recent discovery of the first australopithecine known west of the Rift Valley. The structures under study are found in sandstone levels associated with a rich fauna, including mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes. Analysis of the depositional environment and fauna indicates a mosaic landscape of gallery forest, savannah, grassland and ephemeral rivers interrupted by lacustrine episodes. This sandstone facies contains bioturbation in the form of sandstone balls 4–12 cm in diameter, slightly flattened at the poles. These structures are characterized by an external husk or crust and by a decimetric cavity in the upper part of the ball. Between the husk and the cavity are a number of concave laminae similar to those of a bulb, whose concavity is directed toward the upper cavity. The comparison between these structures and the brood balls of modern Scarabaeidae shows great similarity, especially in the external husk, the concave internal laminae and the chamber of the grub in the upper part of the structures. This bioturbation is interpreted as fossil brood balls of dung beetles (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae). Fossil dung beetle brood balls are generally rare, but have been known since the 1940s. They can be very abundant in any series, as described by several authors in South America. The first fossil dung balls were described in this area in 1938 by Frenguelli and by Roselli. These authors describe elementary spherical forms of 35 mm in diameter on average, flattened at the poles and with an upper cavity. The fossil dung beetle brood balls discovered in Chad are the first in which all the internal characteristic structures are preserved. Many of them are connected by a remarkably large net of tunnels which has no parallel in the past or the present.

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