Prehistoric vomit reveals stomach-churning banquet from millions of years ago: ScienceAlert

Hundreds of millions of years ago, a carnivorous animal feasted on prehistoric amphibians—and regurgitated the meal afterwards.

Now paleontologists have uncovered the regurgitation and published their findings of the ancient upchuck.

In 2018, researchers discovered the regurgitalite—fossilized remains of an animal’s stomach contents, also known as a bromalite—during an excavation in southeastern Utah in the Morrison Formation.

This stretch of sedimentary rock that stretches across the western United States is a hotbed of fossils dating to the end of the Jurassic period (164 million to 145 million years ago).

This section in particular, called the “Jurassic salad bar” by local paleontologists, usually contains the fossilized remains of plants and other organic matter, rather than animal bones.

So when a team that included scientists from the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) stumbled upon the “compact little pile” of remains measuring no more than a third of a square inch (1 square centimeter), they knew they had found something special, the researchers reported in a study published on August 25 in the journal Palaios.

“What struck us was this small concentration of animal bones in a relatively small area,” lead author John Foster, a curator at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal, told LiveScience.

“Usually there are no animal remains at this site, only plants, and the bones we found were not scattered [amongst the rock] but was concentrated to this one place. These are the first bones we’ve ever seen there.”

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Initially, the team did not know they had found prehistoric vomit. Instead, the researchers thought they had discovered the bones of one animal, until they “realized that some of them looked wrong and not all of them were from a single salamander,” Foster said.

“When we look more closely, most of the material is from a frog and at least one salamander. That’s when we began to suspect that what we were seeing was thrown out by a predator.”

Fossilized bones from vomit.
Frog bones and a femur that may have belonged to a salamander fill a suspected “regurgitalite,” which the researchers believe was made by an ancient fish. (JR Foster et al., Palaios2022)

These remains include amphibian bones, specifically femurs from a frog and a salamander, as well as vertebrae from one or more unidentified species.

In all, nearly a dozen bone fragments were found assembled together with a matrix of fossilized soft tissue, according to the study.

And unlike coprolites (fossilized feces), this regurgitation is not fully digested, leading scientists to determine that it is regurgitation.

Although there have been a number of recorded finds of regurgitalites around the world, Foster said this is the first known case of one at the Morrison Formation, calling the discovery “one of a kind”.

While there’s no way to know exactly which animal species lost its lunch millions of years ago—or why it moved up in the first place—further analysis could determine other components of the partially digested animals the predator swallowed.

“We think there’s more to this thing than just the little amphibian bones,” Foster said. “By doing a chemical analysis, we can start to rule things out and find out exactly what the soft tissue is made of.”

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This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.

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