Coprolites, derived from the Greek words kopros meaning 'dung' and lithos meaning 'stone', range in size from a few millimeters to over 60 centimeters with annular markings or spiral patterns or in shapes similar to eggs or small inorganic pellets. They can be analyzed for minerals known to exist in ancient species of plants detecting an herbivore or if bones or other food fragments are present showing a carnivore. Most coprolites are primarily composed of calcium phosphate with minor quantities of organic matter. Coprolites were mined on an industrial scale in 19th century England for use as fertilizer and again during the First World War to provide phosphates for munitions.
Coprolites are frequently associated with dung beetles. Dung beetles are some of many organisms that feed on the nutrients in feces to decompose it back into the ecosystems in the biogeochemical cycle. In its pre-fossilized state it may contain as much as 50% of the energy of the original food. Dung beetles burrowed under the dinosaur feces and filled their burrows with dung.