This Rocky Tableau Captures an Ancient Squid's Last Meal

Daisy Hernandez
Popular Mechanics
Photo credit: Hart et al. / University of Plymouth
Photo credit: Hart et al. / University of Plymouth

From Popular Mechanics

  • Researchers recently discovered a fossil in which a squid can be seen with a literal death grip on a Jurassic-era fish.

  • The finding is exceptional as it depicts a brutal kill which ultimately ended up with both predator and prey dying together.

  • Researchers have two theories about how the two creatures ended up being preserved so well—neither end well for the squid.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

A 19th-century fossil from southern England shows the squid-like Clarkeiteuthis montefiorei savagely attacking what appears to be a Dorsetichthys bechei, a Jurassic-era fish. The find is incredible because researchers believe “the position of the arms, alongside the body of the fish, suggests this is not a fortuitous quirk of fossilization but that it is recording an actual palaeobiological event.”

In other words, it's a fossilized moment frozen time as a Jurassic-era squid dines on a fishy dinner. That both C. montefiorei and D. bechei managed to survive the fossilization process is quite the feat.

This fossil is also the oldest of its kind ever discovered, dating back to the Sinemurian period between 190 and 199 million years ago. According to a news release from the University of Plymouth in England, the fossilized tableau predates “any previously recorded similar sample by more than 10 million years.”

Malcom Hart, lead study author, calls the specimen “a most unusual if not extraordinary fossil.” Hart adds that C. montefiorei was ruthless in its takedown of D. bechei as evidenced by the prey's crushed skull.

Researchers have two theories what caused these ill-fated foes to wind up immortalized in stone together. One is that D. bechei was too big for C. montefiorei, causing the squid to choke on the already dead fish. They ultimately sank to the bottom of the sea where they would spend million of years before their entangled remains were discovered.

The second theory is that C. montefiorei purposely floated down towards the seafloor—in what's referred to as distraction sinking—with D. bechei in its grasp in order to prevent other predators from stealing its meal or making the squid their own meal. During this encounter, the squid sank to a place where oxygen levels were too low, causing it to suffocate and die.

Hopefully, scientists will figure out more about these two ancient creature's last moments with a little help from further analysis. Until then, the exact circumstances that led to such a spectacular fossil specimen remain unclear.

You Might Also Like

What to Read Next