Fossil of ancient squid eating a crustacean while being eaten by an ancient shark

A group of scientists has found a fossil that they are characterizing as the remains of a leftover fall event, meaning that one species was consuming a creature that had not yet been eaten. The group recounts the petrified find and what it taught them about the behavior of ancient cephalopods and vertebrate predators in a report that was published in the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology.

Paleontologists have spent many years uncovering fossils of animals that were engaged in interactions before to their demise; one such interaction is the capture of prey by a predator. Paleontologists have previously referred to fossils of organisms that were about to be eaten as "pabulites" (Latin for "leftovers."). In this new endeavor, the scientists examined an old crustacean pabulite that was about to be eaten by an ancient belemnite, a creature that resembled a squid.

The assemblage of fossils was stumbled across by an amateur collector in a German quarry. One of the study team members discovered the collection recently and made arrangements for the specimens to be purchased by the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart. A research team was soon put together, and they started looking into the discovery.

The two specimens, one of which was a belemnite and the other a crustacean of the genus Proeryon, were still trapped in the fossilized silt. Its body was shaped like a lobster and had long, thin claws. Because of the belemnite's outstanding preservation, the researchers were able to observe that a significant section of its soft upper body had been severed by a predator. In contrast, the Proeryon was in bad shape, and the scientists think that it was molting at the time. The dates of both fossils were found to be around 180 million years old.

The researchers came to the conclusion that the belemnite was biting the crab, or maybe the skin it was shedding, after closely examining the positions of the two fossils. And as it was doing so, a bigger predator—possibly an old shark—bit the belemnite. As it happened, the bite proved to be fatal. The belemnite perished at sea's bottom while holding the crustacean skin in its jaws.