Today’s Bloom County cartoon, courtesy of reader Stash Krod (click to enlarge):
Reader John W. sent this salacious Thanksgiving cartoon (if you don’t know what a “turducken” is, go here):
And, for some biology on this day, we have an item reported in September by Discover Magazine and National Geographic: a “preshistoric turducken”. Yes, it’s a three-in-one fossil find discovered in Germany’s Messel Pit, a remarkable cache of fossils from the Eocene, deposited around 47 million years ago. (Messel is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.) Like a turducken, it shows three species inside each other, though unlike a turducken, the fossils are sequential members of a food chain. Here’s the fossil (the interpretation is below):
The white arrow above indicates the tip of the lizard’s snout resting inside the snake.
And this is what happened (from National Geographic):
Forty-eight million years ago, an iguana relative living in what’s now Germany scarfed down an insect with a shimmering exoskeleton. Soon thereafter the lizard’s luck changed—when a juvenile snake gulped it down headfirst.
We know this happened because the snake had the spectacularly bad luck to end up in a death trap: the nearby Messel Pit, a volcanic lake with toxic deep waters and a possible knack for belching out asphyxiating clouds of carbon dioxide.
It’s unclear if the lake poisoned or suffocated the snake, fates that more often befell the area’s aquatic and flying creatures. Most likely, it somehow died near the lake and was washed in. But no more than two days after eating the lizard, the snake lay dead on the lake floor, entombed in sediments that impeccably preserved it, its meal, and its meal’s meal.
And that’s a very good thing. That fossil, recently described in Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments, is only the second of its kind ever found, revealing three levels of an ancient food chain nested one inside the other in paleontology’s version of Russian nesting dolls—or its culinary equivalent, a turducken.
“It’s probably the kind of fossil that I will go the rest of my professional life without ever encountering again, such is the rarity of these things,” says Krister Smith, the paleontologist at Germany’s Senckenberg Institute who led the analysis and a National Geographic/Waitt Grant recipient. “It was pure astonishment.”
Here’s the reveal (illustration from Kreister R. Smith): the snake is in white, the lizard, Geiseltaliellus maarius, is in orange, and the insect inside the lizard’s gut is in turquoise:
This isn’t the first fossil showing three levels of a food chain. A 2008 paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society reports a fossil shark that ingested an amphibian that itself ingested a fish. Thus, unlike the one above, all are vertebrates. Here’s that one, about 300 million years old, which is a little harder to suss out. The caption comes from the Royal Society paper:
If you’re one of those having a turducken today, give us a shout in the comments. I’ve never had one!