Fossil discovery reveals 200m-year-old ‘squid’ attack in action

7 May 2020

Durdle Door on the UK’s ‘Jurassic Coast’. Image: © davidevison/

Researchers have discovered fossilised remains of a squid-like creature attacking its prey, dating back 200m years ago.

Palaeontologists have discovered a rather rare find in a region referred to as the Jurassic Coast along the southern coast of Britain. In a study set for release in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, the team from the University of Plymouth, University of Kansas and Dorset’s The Forge Fossils revealed the world’s oldest known example of a squid-like creature attacking its prey.

While the 200m-year-old fossil was first discovered in the 19th century, new analysis showed the creature – dubbed Clarkeiteuthis montefiorei – with a herring-like fish in its jaws.

The position of the arms alongside the fish suggests the two creatures were recorded in an actual paleobiological event, researchers said. By dating the fossil to between 190m and 199m years ago, this would be 10m years older than any previously recorded similar sample.

The study’s lead author, Prof Malcolm Hart, said of the findings: “Since the 19th century, the Blue Lias and Charmouth Mudstone formations of the Dorset coast have provided large numbers of important body fossils that inform our knowledge of coleoid palaeontology.

“In many of these mudstones, specimens of palaeobiological significance have been found, especially those with the arms and hooks with which the living animals caught their prey.”

Fossil of the squid with the fish in its jaws.

A close-up image showing the damaged head and body of the Dorsetichthys bechei with the arms of the Clarkeiteuthis montefiorei clamped around it. Image: Malcolm Hart/Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association

‘Most unusual, if not extraordinary, fossil’

Hart continued: “This, however, is a most unusual, if not extraordinary, fossil as predation events are only very occasionally found in the geological record. It points to a particularly violent attack, which ultimately appears to have caused the death, and subsequent preservation, of both animals.”

As part of their analysis, the researchers said the fossil shows a quite brutal incident where the head bones of the fish were crushed by its attacker. Furthermore, they believe there two possibilities for how the two creatures became preserved together.

The first is that the fish was too large for the attacker or became stuck in its jaws, so when the larger creature died, the two settled on the seafloor and were preserved together.

A second possible reason is that the squid-like creature could have taken its prey to the seafloor in a display of ‘distraction sinking’ to avoid the possibility of being attacked by another predator. However, the researchers said that at such depths, oxygen levels would be low enough for the creature to suffocate.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic