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’.
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.