About 180 million years ago, an eight-armed predator grabbed its underwater prey – another eight-armed beast – and began nibbling it, until tragedy struck and they both died of asphyxiation, a new study finds.
The slate slab containing the fossilized remains of this duo preserved impressions of their soft tissues in “exceptional” detail, the researchers wrote in the study, which was published online March 16 in the United States. Swiss Journal of PalaeontologyAn analysis of the record reveals that their final moments together ended in an “eternal embrace,” the team said.
“We assume the predator was so pleased with its capture that it didn’t realize it was sinking,” said lead author Christian Klug, a curator at the University of Zurich’s paleontology museum and a professor at the paleontology institute. “It’s probably in the oxygen– poor water layers, suffocated, died and was embedded in the soft mud. “
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Amateur collector Dieter Weber found the plate with the prints in an abandoned quarry opposite a golf club in Ohmden, a town in southern Germany. The petrified creatures on the plate were placed with the predator’s arms around the smaller prey, he discovered. 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 still alive in the beginning Jurassic period, the region was a sea basin that stretched across much of Central Europe, and “the bottom waters were often low in oxygen,” Klug told Live Science in an email.
Both ancient creatures are members of Octobrachia, a group of eight-armed cephalopods who have the Octopus, argonaut (deep-sea octopus also known as the paper nautilus), and vampire squid – an animal that gets its creepy name from its cape-like skin that ties its arms, but isn’t a leech or squid. In particular, both Jurassic animals are vampyromorphs, ancient relatives of the modern vampire squid (hell Vampyroteuthis), Klug said.
“The vampyromorphs have eight arms plus – as we show here too – a few filaments, which look something like thick spaghetti cooked a little too long,” Klug told Live Science in an email. “These filaments are actually used to catch prey.”
Today, vampire squids eat garbage, plankton and other small prey. But, as this specimen shows, “obviously the larger ones [of vampyromorph] was quite a predator, “said Klug. After analyzing the specimen, the researchers determined that the larger, 18-inch-long (47 cm) octobrachian is likely Jeletzkyteuthis coriaceaThe smaller octobrachian is likely Parabelopeltis flexuosa, which is about 16.7 cm long, is less than 40% the length of the predator it tried to eat.
The specimen is evidence that early vampyromorphs “followed different feeding strategies,” but were not yet adapted to dealing with oxygen-depleted zones in the water like their modern relatives, the researchers wrote in the study. Today’s vampire squid can feed slowly and opportunistically in low-oxygen areas using their retractable filaments, the team said.
However, that low-oxygen area is probably the reason the two Jurassic sea creatures were so pristine.
“Poor oxygen availability has probably increased the likelihood of the smaller cephalopods staying in the arm [region], because it was also immobilized by this [low-oxygen] circumstances, “said Klug.” In addition, the low-oxygen conditions kept scavengers at bay, allowing for the preservation of this unlikely fossil. “
Originally published on Live Science.