About 180 million years ago, an eight-armed predator seized upon its underwater prey, another eight-armed beast, and began nibbling at it, until disaster struck and both died of suffocation, according to a new study.
The slate slab containing the fossilized remains of this duo preserves the imprints of their soft tissues in “exceptional” detail, the researchers wrote in the study, published online March 16 in Swiss Journal of Paleontology. An analysis of the slab reveals that their last moments together ended in an “eternal embrace,” the team said.
“We assume that the predator was so happy with its capture that it did not realize it was sinking,” said the study’s first author, Christian Klug, curator of the Paleontological Museum at the University of Zurich and a professor at the Paleontological Institute. “It probably ended up in the oxygen-The poor, suffocated layers of water died and were embedded in the soft mud ”.
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Hobbyist collector Dieter Weber found the slab with the footprints in an abandoned quarry in front of a golf club in Ohmden, a southern German municipality. The fossilized creatures on the slab were positioned with the predator’s arms locked around the smaller prey, he found. After preparing the fossil, Weber sold the piece to one of the researchers, who then donated it to the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart.
When these creatures were alive for the first Jurassic Period, the region was a marine basin that stretched across much of Central Europe, and “the bottom waters were often oxygen-poor,” Klug told Live Science in an email.
Both ancient creatures are members of Octobrachia, a group of eight-armed cephalopods that includes the octopus, the argonaut (deep-sea-shelled octopus also known as the paper nautilus) and the vampire squid, an animal that got its mysterious name from its cape-like skin connecting its arms, but is neither a bloodsucker nor a squid. In particular, both Jurassic animals are vampiromorphs, ancient relatives of today’s vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), Klug said.
“Vampiromorphs have eight more arms, as we also show here, a couple of filaments, which look like thick spaghetti that was cooked too long,” Klug told Live Science in an email. “These filaments are actually used to catch prey.”
Today, vampire squid eat detritus, plankton, and other small prey. But, as this specimen shows, “obviously the largest species [of vampyromorph] it was a huge predator, “Klug said. After analyzing the specimen, the researchers determined that the largest 18-inch-long (47 cm) octobrach is probably Jeletzkyteuthis coriacea. Probably the smallest octobrachian Parabelopeltis flexuosa, which is about 6.5 inches (16.7 cm) long, is less than 40% of the length of the predator that tried to eat it.
The specimen is evidence that early vampyromorphs “followed various foraging strategies,” but were not yet adapted to deal with low-oxygen areas in the water, as are their modern relatives, the researchers wrote in the study. Today’s vampire squid can feed slowly and opportunistically in low-oxygen areas using its retractable filaments, the team said.
However, that low-oxygen area is probably why the two Jurassic sea creatures were so pristinely preserved.
“Low oxygen availability probably further increased the likelihood that the smallest cephalopod would remain in the arm [region], because he was also immobilized by these [low-oxygen] “Klug said.” Additionally, low oxygen conditions kept scavengers away, allowing for the preservation of this unlikely fossil. “
Originally posted on Live Science.