Reported last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a fascinating fossil was discovered in the Saar-Nahe Basin of Southwestern Germany (sounds more like somewhere in Middle-earth than Bavaria to us, but go figure). The fossil(s?) comprises a fish that was eaten by an amphibian which was eaten by a shark. It is being described as the oldest snapshot of the vertebrate food chain and represents, if nothing else, some good eatin’.

i-a605db72562cfbc82c25221276b119ea-fish amphibian shark fossil.jpg
In case you couldn’t visualize it, this last graphic is an EXACT snapshot of what this prehistoric brunch orgy looked like…

The shark lived in what was once a freshwater lake in the area. There are only a handful of sharks that live their entire lives in freshwater today, but during the Permian Period it appears you had to worry about sharks pretty much everywhere. The amphibian belongs to the group temnospondyls, which physically resembled crocodiles about 100 million years before crocodiles actually emerged on the scene. The fish belonged to the primitive acanthodians group, which tasted like oily fish sticks approximately 248-290 million years before the Gordon’s Fisherman first made an appearance.

The fossil is particularly interesting because the shark must have been encased in sediment rapidly just after eating, as the digestive acids would typically breakdown the meal very quickly. “The shark didn’t just die and sink down and decompose. It was probably still alive when it got trapped under a rapid influx of sediment from surrounding hills,” said co-author Jürgen Kriwet, a paleontologist from Berlin’s Museum of Natural History.

“The fish was swallowed side on, otherwise the spines could have got stuck in the amphibian’s mouth or throat,” Kriwet said. “The fish is situated in quite the correct area of digestive tract of the amphibian,” said study co-author Ulriche Heidtke, a paleontologist from the National History Museum of the Palatinate in Bad Dürkheim, Germany.

“It clearly shows the hallmarks of digestion, [such as] disintegration. If the shark had eaten the fish first and then the amphibian, they would be placed one after the other in the shark’s stomach,” he explained.


  1. #1 neil
    November 12, 2007

    The poorly known Glyphis sharks are regarded as entirely freshwater, at least some species.

  2. #2 Dara
    November 12, 2007

    You guys crack me up. Keep the articles coming. Ever think of getting into science writing? Discover could use the humor.

  3. #3 arachnophile
    November 12, 2007

    I can’t help but think of this as a sort of precursor to the TURDUCKEN phenomenon.

  4. #4 Andrew
    November 12, 2007

    arachnophile – i was trying to figure out what that damn thing was called this morning when i was writing the post. well said.

  5. #5 Jenbug
    November 13, 2007

    Now if they could find a fossilized lobster stuffed with tacos, that’d be even better!

  6. #6 neil
    November 15, 2007

    dibs on the “Turducken” analogy! My SVP notebook bears the words: Paleozoic Turducken in great red caps.

  7. #7 Benny
    November 15, 2007

    We now know that there is an evolutionary basis for this!


  8. #8 arachnophile
    November 23, 2007

    LOL, I’m glad it occured to you as well Andrew, and Neil.

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