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Rare Fossil Preserves a Moment of Deadly Battle — And Recalls a Problem for Darwin 

Günter Bechly
Image: Artist's depiction of Rhamphorhynchus muensteri, by Oleg Kuznetsov — 3depix — 3D Epix Inc., CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most interesting kinds of fossils are those very rare cases when the fossil tells us something about the behavior of extinct animals. Now, one of the most striking examples of such fossilized behavior is on sale from a private collection and will, one hopes, end up in a museum:

It is a fossil from the 150-million-year old lithographic limestones of Solnhofen in Bavaria (southern Germany), the same locality where the famous Archaeopteryx fossils were found. It shows a beaked fish of the genus Aspidorhynchus predating on a small pterosaur of the genus Rhamphorhynchus (an artist’s depiction of the latter is shown at the top of this post). The pterosaur was likely flying closely over the ocean surface to catch small fish when he was attacked by the surface-hunting predatory fish. Both animals became entangled in a deadly fight and sank to the sea floor where they were embedded in sediments and preserved for posterity. Some pictures of this remarkable fossil are available at this website.

The fact that we have a rich fossil record of pterosaurs, even including nests and track ways, makes it even more remarkable that we lack any transitional fossils that would document a gradual development of their unique body plan, contrary to the predictions of Darwin’s theory. Pterosaurs instead appear abruptly in the fossil record of the Late Triassic, which agrees with the predictions of intelligent design theory.

Update: A very similar fossil was scientifically described ten years ago by two paleontologist friends of mine (Frey & Tischlinger 2012). A PDF of this interesting paper is freely available at the journal website. The authors demonstrated that the pterosaur must have been alive and airborne when attacked by the beaked fish. This seems to have happened quite often, as six fossils of such pterosaur-fish associations have been recovered from this location.