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Suppose there is a team of explorers sent back in time 66 million years ago somewhere before the K-T event took place, the mission is to spend no more than 3 months to retrieve a blood sample from a Tyrannosaurus rex. They will be donning a state of the art full body latex suit with air recycling system and temperature regulator, but food and water have to be improvised on the spot. My question is what can we eat over there to satisfy our hunger and thirst without getting sick? They will be driving in armored plated trucks and only armed with powerful tasers that is capable of delivering 100,000 volts of electricity to the subdue any threat.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 22 at 3:46

9 Answers 9

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Water can likely be purified and sterilized sufficient to be safe for human consumption (and associated stuff, cooking with it, cleaning, etc).

Food-wise, you're in a bit of a pickle... because there are no pickles. Also no cabbages, apples, strawberries, asparagus, or artichokes. Vegetables (and this includes fruits, basically any edible plant parts) are right out without extensive lab testing, and maybe even some iffy human testing. While a proper lab can test for common vegetable-origin toxins, there's always the possibility for some new allergen that will cause someone's throat to start swelling shut right when they'd like to breathe.

The good news is, the therapies for anaphylaxis are somewhat routine and easy to administer.

Well-cooked dinosaur meat is a better gamble. Meat can be toxic (see fugu/pufferfish), but this is somewhat uncommon. Palatability isn't guaranteed... some meats from exotic animals just end up being greasy, stringy, gamey, or otherwise borderline disgusting. But it's likely to be safe and keep time travelers from starving while they steal the Delorean back from Biff.

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    $\begingroup$ 🤔 fish & eggs? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Mar 21 at 5:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Pelinore Eggs are roughly in the same category as meat from a toxin perspective. Possible that they're not safe to eat, but just as unlikely. And though I can't explain why it would be the case, I've always been under the impression that fish meat is less safe... is it the diversity of fish species that makes it so? Couldn't say. But yes, mostly safe and probably better tasting in many cases. Cook well, don't want any of those parasites. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Mar 21 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think carrying a spare human in case one dies from the food makes less sense than carrying that weight in dried food $\endgroup$
    – Blueriver
    Mar 21 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ fish are more iffy just because there is a much much larger variety of fish, and because they are mostly ectothermic and targeted by predators that swallow whole, which makes toxicity easier to evolve. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 21 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ For meat, prefer herbivores! Also I think a very important task during the first few days will be food trial and error (by small quantities at first, that's why you'll need to carry your own safe food at the beginning). $\endgroup$
    – Rafael
    Mar 23 at 11:40
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Turtles, crocodiles and snakes are consumed nowadays in some parts of the world, and as genus were present also back then, so they would be worth a try.

They could probably manage to get something similar to honey (flower plants existed and so did bees).

Water can be easily sterilized by using a pressure cooker.

They could also bring along with them some tubers farm on the spot, like potatoes, taking care of not leaving anything behind.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd be cautious about the honey - there are many instances where a toxic plant has been used for nectar, resulting in a toxic honey, with effects ranging from hallucinations to anaphlaxis and death! $\endgroup$
    – SeanR
    Mar 21 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanR "Delectable treat? Or deadly poison?" -Uncle Iroh $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Mar 22 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanR: There was also a case a few years back when bees in France produced blue honey after getting into some carelessly-discarded waste from an M&M's factory. I don't know if the honey was actually toxic, but it was considered "unsellable". $\endgroup$
    – dan04
    Mar 22 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ Cool idea in the farming part, but the 3 months might make that a bit tight... potatoes and sweet potatoes have a growing season of around 5 months before having much in the line of being harvestable - and there are of cause climate requirements. Many other vegetable crops also fall in the 100 days or longer until harvest constraint. $\endgroup$
    – frIT
    Mar 23 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Yes! Look up "Mad Honey". $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Mar 23 at 21:47
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The place where you're most likely to find familiar animals is the sea. Sharks were present back then, in shapes and sizes pretty close to nowadays (as well as other shapes and sizes). Shark fin soup, anyone?

Fish are the vertebrates that changed the least in the last hundred million years. Finding, catching and preparing them for consumption is also pretty straightforward. And fishing on a boat might be the distraction your guys need to relax before or after trying to negotiate with a T-Rex for its blood.

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    $\begingroup$ Fishing on a boat is only relaxing until the first plesiosaur shows up... $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman: so it's like fishing in Loch Ness! Better bring your 12 ton fishing line/steel cable though. Slightly higher probability of encountering "Nessie" in the late Cretaceous, I imagine. $\endgroup$ Mar 22 at 17:03
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Water

All the dinosaurs and other animals drank water. So water can be treated for drinking.

Food

As told here:

Some dinosaurs ate lizards, turtles, eggs, early mammals or even other dinosaurs. Most, however, ate plants (but not grass, which hadn't evolved yet). Many of these plants had edible leaves, including evergreen conifers (pine trees, redwoods, and their relatives), ferns, mosses, horsetail rushes, cycads, ginkos, and in the latter part of the dinosaur age flowering (fruiting) plants.

So these people can eat

  • edible parts of plants
  • meat of early mammals
  • fish (Sturgeon, Coelcanth, Lancetfish etc.)
  • eggs
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    $\begingroup$ While there are plenty of animals that can eat leaves, pine needles, ferns and mosses, humans cannot. These things are not poisonous, humans just can't digest them so they don't get any meaningful nutrition from eating them, the same way humans can't eat wood. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Mar 21 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ @quarague Humans eat leaves of Mint, Parsley, Fenugreek, Lettuce, Spinach etc. Fiddleheads or fiddlehead greens are the furled fronds of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable. Reindeer Moss, Oakmoss, Iceland Moss etc. can be eaten in case of emergency. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Mar 21 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @imtaar which are a very tiny fraction of all leaves, discovered mostly via trail and error. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 21 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ As told in jstor.org/stable/23596215 oldest fruits of the grape family were present in late Cretaceous. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Mar 22 at 10:25
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Bringing their own food would be better. If they are driving trucks, they may have enough storage space to store food for three months.

And they should have drones to fly and search for tyrannosaurs. Once the drones locate a tyrannosaur it can be followed until it goes to sleep. Then a drone can land near it and send out a remotel controlled vehicle to examine the skin of the sleeping tyrannosaur. And if the skin is soft enough the remotely controlled vehicle may be able to insert a needle and draw blood, hopefully without the tyrannosaur feeling anything, and return to the drone to take it back to the camp of the people from the future.

Or possibly they might follow a bunch of female tyrannosaurs until at least one of them makes a nest or lays a clutch of eggs. Then they can find small baby tyrannosaurs to subdue easily and get blood from easily. Or maybe take some eggs back to the future and hatch them and take blood samples from newborn tyrannosaurs and find outher uses for the yung tyrannosaurs.

It seems to me that a well planned expedition could get tyrannosaur blood with "no fuss, no muss, no rough stuff", and that you story features a less well planned expedition which will have a higher probability of failing in an interesting and exciting way.

I also note that the trucks used by the expedition should often run over and crush small insects and maybe small reptiles and small mammals. It is possible that the trucks could kill a small mammal which would otherwsie become an ancestor of humans or other mammals important to humans. And possbily the trucks might crush and kill plants which would otherwise become ancestors of plants important to humans as food sources.

And if your trucks sometimes run over and crush animals and plants, what happens to the bacteria and viruses living in and on those animals and plants? Shouldn't that change which bacteria and viruses live and which die from what would otherwise have happened? And shouldn't that change the future eveolution of viruses and bacteria, and thus prevent various human diseases from evolving and cause other human diseases to evolve. And since bacteria and viruses are the major causes of human deaths, changing which diseases evolve means changing which humans live and which humans die on a massive scale, totally changing human history.

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  • $\begingroup$ If it were easy, it wouldn't make a good story. The drone will get destroyed by a territorial pterodactyl, the remote controlled vehicle will run over the tip of the t-rex's tail waking it up with a roar, the baby t-rex will prove to be far cuter and more deadly than expected. If it can go wrong, it will. $\endgroup$
    – user91320
    Mar 22 at 8:00
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First your suits are pointless if you are eating the local fauna and leaving behind your waste. Human waste is mostly bacteria. If you are hauling your waste back you have enough storage space to bring your own food.

As others have said water can be purified fairly easily.

If you are absolutely determined to eat the locals start with things that are still around. Turtles, crocodiles, and birds are going to be just as safe as modern ones. Dinosaurs should be likewise safe, they are phylogenetically bracketed by crocs and birds and because they are not mammals the chances of finding compatible prions or other disease causing agents that will survive cooking are less than you risk with supermarket beef or pork. follow standard wild game practices, don't eat anything that looks sick, smells bad, or has open wounds.

If you want to take a bit more risk you can try Pterosaurs, Marine reptiles, and varanid lizards. These should still be safe but there is less certainty. follow standard wild game practices, don't eat anything that looks sick, smells bad, or has open wounds. Cook well, radio-sterilize if you can. Poisonous amniotes are basically non-existent, so you are just worried about the same disease vectors we have to worry about today. large animals are basically never poisonous because predators eat only after they are dead and generation times are too long to get much benefit from kin selective toxicity.

If you like to live dangerously you can try large fish and cycad fruits, you may survive. Don't eat more than a bite at first and try on the most expendable crew members first. Primates did exist in your time period so if you see a lemur looking thing eating a fruit you may consider trying it, but follow basic new plant survival protocols, test on skin first, then lips, then chew and spit, only then consider swallowing any. For fish, stick to very big fish, cook well, and follow the same protocol as plants. Of course the down side of fish is you may find something that is completely safe and completely disgusting, we don't know when coelacanths started storing large amounts of urea in their tissues.

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Carbon dioxide and water

Do like the Japanese and eat home grown algae. Carbon dioxide and water are the only things that will guarantee no one will get sick. So you need to pack some live algae and grow your food. Put it in purified nutrified water, give it some sunlight and air, then wait for dinner to grow.

Everything else can make you sick

There is no possible test other than experimentation to discover what can kill you or cause an allergy or intoxicate you or cause delusions.

  1. Plants are usually toxic. Modern science has exactly one method to test this: try it. Your plants 66MYA won’t have any recognized toxins, modern test kits will be useless.

  2. Animals can be toxic. See #1 for how to find out which ones are safe.

  3. Bacteria and viruses: You may be able to cook these out, no guarantees. Extremophile bacteria can survive cooking. Today none live in living things. Cretaceous animals? Roll the dice.

  4. Prions. Prions cause mad cow disease and spongeoform encephalitis. They can be killed by extended cooking at 900°F. Whatever your dinner used to be, it’s now safe and reduced to charcoal. Today known prions live in brain tissue. Cretaceous prions lived in _______ (roll the dice).

You won’t get sick if you:

  • Bring a small amount of algae with you
  • Purify water then add purified minerals back in
  • Filter outside air to 95 microns
  • Grow algae in the treated water, sunlight, and filtered air
  • Purify salt from seawater by evaporating in a kiln
  • Bring favorite spices, enjoy.

Purify waste

Your autoclave will be needed again to reduce your own poop and pee to ash before letting anything outside. The closer you get it to raw carbon and water, the better.

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    $\begingroup$ Fruits have existed as long as flowering plants have (i.e., since the Early Cretaceous). $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Mar 22 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ Fossil flowers are known dating back to at least 125 MyrBP, and your own source in fact agrees with this time frame; the mention of the Late Cretaceous early in the article appears to be a typo. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Mar 22 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Vikki removed as redundant, they’re plants. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 22 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ Infectious bacteria would never be extremophilic because it literally wouldn't help them. Also, prions are just mammalian brain proteins, and so they aren't exactly going to be common in dinosaurian thigh meat $\endgroup$ Mar 22 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing I feel it is perilous to suppose that anything about today maps neatly onto a 99.9% extinct biosphere 66MYA. That's my personal belief. No one has looked deeply enough into sauropod proteins to venture a guess about their prions IMO. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 22 at 15:50
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Chickens

Eating should be no problem. Galliformes, the order of animals that include chicken, turkey etc., predates the K-T event by many dozens of millions of years - chickens are sometimes called dinosaurs in pop-culture for their singlemindedness and not-giving-a-**** about eating anything and everything.

I find no particular reason to assume that the Galliformes of back then, which are "heavy-bodied, ground-feeding" birds should be particular poisonous to our valiant explorers.

In fact, Birds are considered the last living dinosaurs, sharing many common aspects, down to some features of the DNA, with dinos. I would assume that at least trying to eat actual dino meat would not be out of the realm of possibility. I would try for a specimen which has obvious methods of defense which are not poison - e.g., a dino with huge claws and teeth probably uses those for attack and defense, and would be more likely not to have evolved any hidden, insiduous defense mechanism, as opposed to a small and cute specimen.

Vitamins

Vitamins have the property that they are vital for life, and not all of them can readily created by the body from other ingredients. This means that even if there are plenty of chicken around for macro-nutrients (i.e., energy), you will run into problems. Your time of 3 months could be problematic.

For example, it takes at least 1 month of no vitamin C to develop scurvy. Too little Vitamin D eventually could lead to Rickets (with variants for adults) but should be no problem and can be synthesized with sunlight. Other vitamins you may need to look up yourself.

I have the feeling that 3 months of extremely one-sided food should be survivable. Maybe with extreme consequences, but hopefully medical science is advanced enough by the time we have time travel to be able to cure whatever deficiency syndrome develops.

As your explorers are coming with high-tech suits, is it at all possible to have some pockets with the absolute essentials - i.e., vitamin powders/gels? Say a highly concentrated gel which can be taken every 3 days - so 30 little gel packets placed around the body should be manageable...

Plants

There will be none of our modern cultured plants - things like apples, bananas, our vegetables etc. exist only because we humans selected them for millenia and hence did a low-tech Darwinistic gene-modification operation for a very long time now. Aside from the fact that the original fruits of natural plants will be small, probably not very well tasting, possibly poisonous etc., it is well known that going out into the wilderness today and just eat whatever grows on the ground or on trees will quickly lead to at least vomiting and possibly death (due to the weakness of trying to forage on an empty stomach for a few days...).

Water

There are good ways to make water safe to drink in the wilderness, today. Surely our group can bring some mechanism, be it filtering or chemical, with them. Again, while of course the individual bacteria or other critters around back then were different from today, they were biochemically/mechanically not that far removed and I see no particular reason why they should be immune to our water purifiers. If they had awesome, unknown defense mechanisms, they surely would still be around! Also, if the filter is working at least partly mechanically, there is a minimum size of single-celled organisms even back then, with no reason to believe that it is much smaller than the smallest protozoan today.

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Honey. Honey bees have been around for a very long time (circa 120 million years). It is a known anti-bacterial material.

Fish. Unlikely to carry the sort of germs that will infect people (especially if you eat fish that are near the bottom of the food chain).

Fern fronds. I have trie3d them in Borneo and they are fabulous (though best with lots of garlic - so expect them to be a bit bland).

Pine nuts. Several conifers have edible seeds - they could be ground up to make flour.

So that gives you protein, sugar, green veg, and carbo - enough for a well balanced diet.

For those concerned about poisons - obviously try small amounts first, or feed them to sacraficial lab-rats. For those concerned with viruses/bacteria - there is only a minute overlap of 'bugs' that can infect both mammels and any of fish, reptiles, or amphibians - so you would almost certainly be safg eeating them (ignoring the small risk of a fugu-like scenario). Almost any fish you might find in fresh or salt water today is edible, so there is no reason why it wouldn't be in the past. There is a possible risk from eating dinosaurs - due to their common ancestry with birds (which can carry disease agents that are co-infectious to mammels). If you are going to risk it, then I suggest you eay your dino-steaks well-done.

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