150-million-year-old vomit found in Utah offers ‘rare glimpse’ into prehistoric ecosystems

An artist rendering of a bowfin fish attempting to sneak up on a frog floating at the surface of a pond while another bowfin regurgitates part of a recent meal of frogs and a salamander. The bowfin fish is the suspected predator of a 150 million-year-old vomit fossil discovered in southeast Utah.
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Another bowfin regurgitates part of a recent frog and salamander meal as the artist depicts a bowfin fish trying to sneak up on a frog swimming on the surface of a pond. The suspected predator of a 150-million-year-old vomitus fossil found in southeastern Utah is a bowfin. (via Brian Engh, Utah State Parks Division)

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VERNAL – A recently discovered fossil in southeastern Utah shows the type of prey that raptors ate on their backs during the time of the dinosaurs and when the region was not the desert it is today.

Utah paleontologists have discovered a pile of amphibian bones that they claim were vomited up by some kind of predator. According to paleontologists with the Utah Geological Survey, Utah State Parks Division and the Museum of Flying Heritage and Battle Armor in Washington, D.C., this prehistoric vomit is believed to be 150 million years old.

These were their findings published last month in Palaios magazine.

“This fossil gives us a rare glimpse into animal interactions in ancient ecosystems,” John Foster, curator of the Utah Field House Museum of Natural History State Park and one of the study’s co-authors, said in a statement Tuesday.

The group found the remains while investigating Morrison Formation, a famous paleontological site known for its Late Jurassic fossils dating from about 148 million years ago to 155 million years ago. It’s mostly known for its dinosaur bones, but it’s also where scientists have found all kinds of other animals, including fish, salamanders, and frogs.

The Southeastern Utah section of the formation has mostly prehistoric plants such as ginkgoes, ferns, and conifers; However, paleontologists have also discovered amphibians and bow-finned fish there. These discoveries are the reason why they believe that the region was once home to a pond or a small lake.

But during a recent study, the team discovered a strangely arranged fossil. It was a collection of bones that contained “elements” of at least one small frog or tadpole and would be “the smallest salamander specimen reported from the formation,” the researchers wrote in the study. Some of these bones were only 0.12 inches long, among the smallest set of bones in the formation.

They added that the fossil’s chemical and bone structure indicated it was regurgitate, a fossilized form of vomit. The team noted that this is the first such find within the Morrison Formation and also in the Jurassic period of North America.

What is still not clear after 150 million years is what killed the species in the regurgitate. Foster points out that past studies have placed bowfinned fish in the region at the time, which he sees as the “current best match” for the predator behind the fossil. Scientists have discovered species of fish, salamanders and frogs in the Morrison Formation for more than a century.

“While we can’t rule out other predators, the bowfin is our current suspect,” he said, explaining that fish and other animals sometimes regurgitate their last meal when they’re being chased or looking to distract potential predators. predator

“There were three animals that are still around today, and these animals interacted in ways that are still known today—prey being eaten by predators and perhaps prey being chased by other predators,” he said. “It shows how similar some ancient ecosystems were to places on Earth today.”

This find is the team’s latest in the region. Two of the study’s three co-authors are also contributing Discover a 151-million-year-old giant water beetlethis led to a paper published in 2020.

State paleontologist James Kirkland, who co-authored both studies, said paleontologists plan to continue searching where the prehistoric vomit was found to see if they can find more evidence of the area’s past ecosystem.

“I was very excited to find this site because the locations of Upper Jurassic plants are very rare,” he said in a statement. “Now we must carefully dissect the site to look for smaller wonders among the leaves.”


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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter covering general news, outdoors, history and sports for I used to work for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by way of Rochester, New York.

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