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Fossil tells story of brutal 200-million-year-old 'squid' attack

The tense scene of predation is preserved in frightening detail.

fossilfishattack
This fossilized fish appears to have been attacked by a squid-like animal 200 million years ago.
Malcolm Hart, Proceedings of the Geologists' Association

Gather around, children. This tale is set 200 million years ago along the Jurassic Coast of southern England. We have a fish minding its own business, when all of a sudden it becomes the victim of a hungry squid-like creature. This doesn't have a happy ending for either animal. They're both preserved as fossils. 

The Jurassic Coast along Dorset in the UK has been a hotbed for fascinating fossils.

Lloyd Russell, University of Plymouth

A fossil that was originally collected in the 1800s and kept in a British Geological Survey collection in Nottingham is now telling a new story. A team of researchers took a look at the fossil and offered a fresh analysis of what it shows. 

The team identified the two animals as a squid-like Clarkeiteuthis montefiorei and a herring-like Dorsetichthys bechei. The fossil appears to show the squid with its arms extended capturing the fish and crushing its head bones. 

The scientists' analysis has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the Geologists' Association journal.

Paleontologists have found other fossilized predators from the same area. "This, however, is a most unusual if not extraordinary fossil as predation events are only very occasionally found in the geological record," said lead author Malcolm Hart, an emeritus professor at the University of Plymouth in the UK.

Hart described the preserved scene as a "particularly violent attack." 

This full view of the fossil shows the squid on the left with the fish trapped on the right.

Malcolm Hart, Proceedings of the Geologists' Association

The researchers offered some potential storylines. The fish may have gotten stuck in the squid's jaws, ensuring mutual destruction. Another possibility is the squid carried its prey downward until accidentally suffocating in low-oxygen waters. 

We may never know the exact events of that day, but we do know the two animals will forever be locked together in their doomed embrace.