Aspiration Fossil to be Sold in Texas

A rare fossil preserving an ancient amphibian whose eyes were bigger than its stomach is being auctioned by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas next month.  The sale, part of a special science and nature themed auction is to take place on 19th and 20th October.  The reserve on this particular lot, one that shows a seventy centimetre long amphibian apparently having choked as it attempted so swallow a smaller amphibian is set at $75,000 USD, but with the current interest in fossils, the final price to be paid for this exceptionally preserved evidence of feeding behaviour in a Permian amphibian will probably be much higher.

The fossil originated in Germany, where laws prevent the collection of such specimens, but this particular fossil was excavated and sold prior to the legislation being in place.  The fossil is currently part of a private collection in San Francisco, but when it is auctioned next month, anyone with a spare £200,000 USD or so can purchase it.

A Close up of the Aspiration Fossil – Amphibians from the Permian

Biting off more than it could chew?

Biting off more than it could chew?

Picture Credit: Heritage Auctions

The specimen dates from the Cisuralian epoch of the Permian (Early Permian), it is approximately 300 million years old and it reveals the last moments of a carnivorous, sub-adult Sclerocephalus haeuseri which may have bitten a smaller amphibian in half (presumed to be a specimen of Cherlyderpeton latirostris or possibly a juvenile S. haeuseri).  The exact identity of the victim is not clear, only the rear half is visible, the rest including that diagnostic, all important skull is inside the remains of the larger amphibian.  Apparently, the sub-adult S. haeuseri was asphyxiated as it tried to cope with its large meal, after all its victim was nearly thirty centimetres long.

Fossils of a predator choking on its prey are known as aspiration specimens.  They are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, although, Everything Dinosaur is aware of a number of aspiration fossils, most of which feature fish of one sort or another.  A famous example of an aspiration fossil shows a four metre long, Late Cretaceous predatory fish  called Xiphactinus that perished with a two metre long, Ichthyodectid fish inside its stomach.

The Famous “Greedy Xiphactinus” Fossil Specimen

A fossil fish within a fish

A fossil fish within a fish

Picture Credit: Sternberg Museum of Natural History

The Complete Specimen Up for Auction

The complete specimen up for auction.

The complete specimen up for auction.

Picture Credit: Heritage Auctions

The piece also features a fossil fish, possibly Paramblypterus gelberti which can be seen in the bottom right of the slab.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This is a truly remarkable and very beautiful fossil specimen.  Aspiration fossils, certainly those featuring Tetrapods are extremely rare.  If a public body is unable to purchase this fossil, perhaps the private consortium or wealthy individual who secures this lot will allow it to be made available for further study and analysis – let’s hope so.”

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