Fossils found within other fossils happen when an animal dies with its undigested prey inside. Cases generally involve prehistoric fish and reptiles, as they tend to swallow prey whole. Scientists working in China have reported finding a thalattosaur inside the stomach of an ichthyosaur species called a guizhouichthyosaurus. This was surprising, because scientists believed there were no megapredators eating other predators at the time.
When Ryosuke Motani, a paleontologist at the University of California, Davis, realized there was a nearly complete torso from a 13-foot-long thalattosaur bulging from inside the 16-foot-long ichthyosaur's stomach, he knew his team was onto something groundbreaking. A study describing the fossil was published today in the journal iScience.
For the pedants who will complain this is not a true fossil turducken, there was also the case of insect fossils inside a lizard inside a snake.
The specimen, described by paleontologists Krister Smith and Agustín Scanferla, was found in the famous Messel Pit. This spot has given up beautifully-preserved remains of birds, primates, reptiles, and more, including this fortuitous find. It's a juvenile of an Eocene snake named Palaeopython fischeri with two surprises inside. Within the snake there is an ancient relative of basilisk lizards – Geiseltaliellus maarius – and within the lizard are the remains of an insect. This is as close as paleontologists are likely to get to a fossil turducken.
There is also the whale inside a whale inside a megalodon found in the valley of the whales in Egypt.
Sadly, the fossil record millions of years from now will not include any actual turduckens, because they are boneless.
Image: Ghedoghedo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,