National Geographic have released images of a fossil — believed to be 48 million years-old — showing a bug, inside a lizard, inside a snake.
The fossil has been named paleontology’s version of Russian nesting dolls and is the second known vertebrate fossil containing direct evidence of three trophic levels.
Paleontologist at Germany’s Senckenberg Institute Doctor Krister Smith identified the snake as a juvenile of Palaeopython fischeri and the lizard as Geiseltaliellus maarius, a stem-basilisk.
The insect, despite preserved structural colouration, could not be identified more precisely.
Dr Smith, who led the analysis of the fossil told National Geographic his reaction to the find was “pure astonishment”.
“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,” he said.
What happened to the snake?
The snake died near Messel Pit, a disused quarry located 35 kilometres south-east of Frankfurt in Germany.
Forty-eight million years ago, Messel Pit was a volcanic lake with toxic waters and sporadic asphyxiating clouds of carbon dioxide.
While the snake’s cause of death is unclear, its body was entombed in sediments that perfectly preserved the ‘Nesting Doll’ fossil.
What does the find prove?
The fossil of the ‘meal-within-a-meal’ confirms a longstanding dietary trend among boids, a snake group that includes neotropical boas, Madagascar boas, and Asian and African sand boas.
Ancient-snake expert Doctor Agustin Scanferla told National Geographic the find proves boids’ food preferences chance as they age with young boids preferring small lizards and amphibians, and adult boids choosing larger-bodied prey, including mammals, birds, and large reptiles such as crocodiles.
“This specimen shows us the earliest evidence of this dietary shift, [since] this beautiful boid, Palaeopython, is a juvenile,” Mr Scanferla said.
If this is the second known case, what was the first?
The first known three-level trophic chain vertebrate fossil was a spiny fish inside an amphibian, inside a spiny fish.
The 250 million-year-old fossil was discovered in 2008 by researches from the University of Vienna.
Article source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-11/nesting-doll-fossil-shows-bug-in-lizard-in-snake/7833996