Inside the belly of a beast
A well-preserved fossil from a quarry in Guizhou province, China, shows the torso of a 4-m-long (12 ft) thalattosaur inside the belly of another marine monster, a 5-m (15-ft) ichthyosaur.1 Previously only fish and squid had been found in ichthyosaur stomachs. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, said that “the discovery of a fairly large ichthyosaur with a comparatively very large thalattosaur dinner is highly unusual”.2 Ryosuke Motani, a co-author of the study, explained that scientists had previously “never found articulated remains of a large reptile in the stomach of gigantic predators from the age of dinosaurs”.3 This suggests that ichthyosaurs would normally tear off and swallow smaller chunks of their prey.
The stomach remains included the limbs attached to the torso, but not the head or tail of the thalattosaur. Its 2-m-long (7-ft) tail was 23 m (75 ft) away from the ichthyosaur. The bones of the thalattosaur were not etched by stomach acid, indicating that the ichthyosaur died very shortly after eating it.
The authors suggested that the predator bit off more than it could chew, which was the cause of death. However, only the torso had been consumed, which was able to fit inside its stomach. The suggested cause of death also does nothing to explain how both animals are so well preserved.
A possible scenario during the Noahic Flood some 4,500 years ago could explain this highly unusual find, as follows.
Some marine creatures bite off their prey’s head first, to immobilize it. While feeding on the body, the ichthyosaur, startled by an onrushing huge load of transported sediment, gulped down the torso. It may have reflexively chomped down hard on the still-protruding tail, severing it. The sediment rapidly suffocated the ichthyosaur, and preserved both it and the nearby tail of its prey. This explains the lack of time for digestion, as well as the unusual feeding behaviour.
References and notes
- Jiang, D. and 8 others, Evidence supporting predation of 4-m marine reptile by a Triassic megapredator, iScience, 101347, 20 Aug 2020. Return to text.
- Dvorsky, G., Incredible fossil shows a sea monster in the belly of an even bigger sea monster; gizmodo.com, 20 Aug 2020. Return to text.
- Ref. 2. Return to text.