A Shark, Eating a Squid, Eating a Lobster, in One Fossil

Home Technology A Shark, Eating a Squid, Eating a Lobster, in One Fossil
A Shark, Eating a Squid, Eating a Lobster, in One Fossil
Artist’s conception of what may have occurred to result in the unusual fossil described in a new study.
Artist’s conception of what may have occurred to result in the unusual fossil described in a new study.
Illustration: Klug et al. / Swiss Journal of Palaeontology (2021)

Over 174 million years ago, a squid-like creature was chowing down on an ancient crustacean, only to find itself scooped up as a meal by a prehistoric shark. Three creatures left their mark in time in an extraordinarily well-preserved fossil in Germany.

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This particular food chain required a bit of detective work. Immediately recognizable in the fossil itself are the hard parts of a belemnite, a type of sea creature resembling today’s squids: hundreds of little hooks, two large hooks, and a torpedo-shaped shell called a rostrum. Bits of fossilized soft parts of the belemnite extend from the shell, and the claws of the crustacean are interspersed within the hooks. The shark, however, is completely absent. There are no bite marks. And yet, the authors of a paper published this April in the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology say that this fossil is in fact the remnant of a meal from a large marine predator. In other words, what remains for us today is what that shark Hybodus spit out.

It’s not an outlandish leap to suggest this. Also in the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart (SMNS), which houses this fossil, is another exquisitely preserved specimen of one such shark from the same time period. And within its ancient stomach are an estimated 200 shells of belemnites. This particular shark didn’t expel the hard parts, an act that might have led to its death.