Most violent fossil ever shows the final record of a three-way hunt

150 million years ago, a flying reptile saw a fish in the waters of the Jurassic Ocean. The reptile caught its prey...and then was almost immediately grabbed by a much larger fish. That's when things really started to go wrong.

It's rare to see a fossil that records the final moments of two different creatures, let alone three. But that's what happened here, as the pterosaur species Rhamphorhynchus was almost devoured by the large fish Aspidorhynchus. I say "almost devoured" because something fatally interrupted the fish before it could complete its meal — hence, why we have the fossil.

This remarkable find was made in 2009 in the southern German town of Eichstätt. As its discoverers Eberhard Frey and Helmut Tischlinger explain, the bigger fish likely perished due to a choking hazard, dragging its prey — not to mention its prey's prey, which was just beginning to be digested — down with it:

There are five specimens of medium-sized pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus that lie adjacent to the rostrum of a large individual of the ganoid fish Aspidorhynchus. In one of these, a small leptolepidid fish is still sticking in the esophagus of the pterosaur and its stomach is full of fish debris. This suggests that the Rhamphorhynchus was seized during or immediately after a successful hunt. According to the fossil record, Rhamphorhynchus frequently were accidentally seized by large Aspidorhnychus. In some cases the fibrous tissue of the wing membrane got entangled with the rostral teeth such that the fish was unable to get rid of the pterosaur. Such encounters ended fatally for both.

You can check out the full paper on this fossil over at PLoS ONE.

Via New Scientist. Image by Eberhard Frey, Helmut Tischlinger/PLoS One.