Finding fossils of creatures that lived 180 million years ago is not easy. The vast majority of fossils found millions of years ago are animals going about their business on their own.
On rare occasions, fossils of interacting animals have been found. Often these are animals of the same species or sometimes of two different species that are in a predator-prey relationship. These are quite rare, but extremely interesting and valuable findings for researchers. So you can imagine the excitement of a group of scientists who found fossils that testify to the interaction of not two but three different species.
The fossils were found in Germany by an “amateur collector” who happened to stumble upon an absolutely incredible discovery. The fossils belong to an ancient crustacean and squid, as well as an ancient shark. The fossils are the subject of a new article published in the Swiss Journal of Paleontology.
It is an incredibly fortunate find for researchers, as the fossils provide information not only about the creatures themselves, but also about their behavior and predatory relationships. Based on what the researchers were able to gather from the fossils, they believe that events unfolded as follows:
A squid likely grabbed a crustacean-a member of the proerion family, which looked like a lobster or crab but had “long, thin claws”-and was about to open it up to eat when another predator attacked it. Scientists think the predator that killed the squid might have been a type of ancient shark, although they can’t say for sure. However, whatever it was, it was strong enough to bite the squid and inflict a fatal wound. The squid, perhaps still alive but severely wounded, sank to the bottom of the sea and died with the crustacean (or at least its tough outer skin) still in its mouth.
The likelihood that such a scenario unfolded in the ancient ocean was not super rare. Predators often like to ambush their prey when it least expects it, including while hunting for food. However, the fact that the squid and the crustacean fell to the seafloor and fossilized in the sediment while remaining together is quite remarkable. The fact that the shark did not finish its meal is also fortunate. If it had torn the squid apart and eaten it, this unique combined fossil would simply not have existed.
We can learn a lot about ancient creatures from the behavior of their modern relatives. Nevertheless, it is always nice to have evidence, and these fossils serve as a time capsule that allows scientists to look into the distant past.