Mind-Blowing Fossil Fish Found in a Cattle Field

Pachycormus: It looks like it’s going to jump on you

A fierce-looking fossil fish has been unearthed from an extraordinary new Jurassic dig site just outside Stroud, in Gloucestershire.

The creature, a tuna-like predator called pachycorm – is beautifully preserved in three dimensions.

With its large teeth and eyes, it gives the impression that it is about to launch an attack.

The specimen was identified by prolific West Country fossil hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth.

“It was a real surprise because when you do find fossils, more often than not they have been flattened out by time pressure,” Neville told BBC News.

“But when we prepared this one, to reveal his bones little by little, it was amazing because suddenly we realized that his skull was not crushed.

“His mouth is open, and it looks like he’s coming out of the rock at you.”

Livestock

English longhorn cattle stand on a layer of early Jurassic clay that contains abundant fossils.

The pair found the fish head in a grassy bank behind a cow shed in the town of Kings Stanley.

It had been encased in one of many limestone nodules that fell from an exposed clay layer.

The landowner, Adam Knight, had no idea his English longhorn cattle grazed on a rich vein of fossils, recalling a time, 183 million years ago, when his farm would have been under the warm waters of the tropical ocean.

Knight gave Neville and Sally, and a team led by the University of Manchester, permission to investigate the bank further.

A bulldozer was brought in to extract hundreds more nodules, which were carefully opened to see what they contained.

fossil bank

The owner allowed the team to further investigate the bank.

The loot included more fish, squid, and even the bones of two ichthyosaurs, highly successful marine reptiles that somewhat resembled a large dolphin.

“We have the whole food chain,” said Manchester paleontologist Dean Lomax.

“So this pachycorm it would have been eating the smaller fish and squid.

“And then the ichthyosaurs would have been eating the pachycorm.”

Interestingly for a marine setting, there is also fossilized wood and insects in the clay layer, suggesting land wasn’t that far away.

Play with a 3D model of pachycorm here.

The findings are likely to keep researchers busy for several years.

There is particular interest because the specimens were taken from a rare UK example of a time interval in the early Jurassic: the Toarcian Stage.

It is known for its exceptional preservation, including of soft tissue, and the team has a fish, for example, in which it is possible to see the stomach contents.

“The last comparable exhibition like this was the so-called Strawberry Bank Lagerstätte, in Somerset, in the 19th century, which was built,” said Sally.

“The Court Farm site allows scientists to conduct modern research with fresh material in situ.”

fossil fish

Remarkable detail: The soft tissues are preserved in the fish

The Hollingworths are renowned for their extraordinary ability to identify highly productive fossil locations.

They recently discovered the remains of mammoths at nearby Cotswold Water Park, featured in a BBC documentary hosted by Sir David Attenborough.

They also made headlines with the discovery of thousands of fossilized echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins and brittle stars) in a quarry in North County.

“These sites tell you that there are still many nationally and internationally significant fossil discoveries yet to be made in the UK,” said Dr Lomax.

The intention is to have a public display of the fossils at the Boho Bakery Café, which is very close to Court Farm, in October.

nev and sally

Neville and Sally Hollingworth are famous for finding rare fossils in the area.

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