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HomeARCHEOLOGYWhen Snakes Ate Lizards Ate Insects: Uncovering a 48-Million-Year-Old Fossil Feeding Frenzy

When Snakes Ate Lizards Ate Insects: Uncovering a 48-Million-Year-Old Fossil Feeding Frenzy

Palaeontologists have uncovered a fossil that has preserved an insect inside a lizard inside a snake – a prehistoric battle of the food chain that ended in a volcanic lake some 48 million years ago. This fossil, pulled from an abandoned quarry in southwest Germany called the Messel Pit, is only the second of its kind ever found, with the remains of three animals sitting snug in one another.

A Unique Fossil Preservation

According to Krister Smith from Germany’s Senckenberg Institute, this fossil is a rarity that he is unlikely to encounter again in his professional life. “It’s probably the kind of fossil that I will go the rest of my professional life without ever encountering again, such is the rarity of these things,” he told National Geographic. The preservation of this fossil is truly extraordinary, capturing a moment in time when the food chain was playing out in a dramatic fashion.

Reconstructing the Prehistoric Battle

The researchers have pieced together a plausible sequence of events that led to the creation of this remarkable fossil. They suspect that the iguana ate a shiny insect meal, and then, just two days later, was swallowed headfirst by a juvenile snake. It remains unclear how the snake ultimately met its demise, but it is believed that the snake got too close to the deep volcanic lake that once bubbled in the Messel Pit, and was either poisoned or suffocated by the toxic fumes. After its death, the snake’s corpse likely slid into the lake, where the Russian doll of skeletons was preserved perfectly for millions of years.

The Significance of the Fossil

The fossil of an insect inside a lizard inside a snake: astounding remains  uncover 48 million-year-old food chain | The Vintage News

This fossil provides a remarkable glimpse into the complex food web of the past. As UK palaeontologist Jason Head from the University of Cambridge noted, “To see this kind of trophic scale recorded within the gut of a snake is a very cool thing.” The discovery of this fossil is not the first time a prehistoric “turducken” has been found, but it is certainly the most well-preserved and detailed example to date.

The Messel Pit: A Treasure Trove of Prehistoric Wonders

The Messel Pit has long been a source of fascination for paleontologists, as it has yielded some of the best-preserved fossils from the Eocene epoch, which ran from around 56 to 34 million years ago. In the past, the pit has revealed the now notorious Darwinius masillae fossil, a fossilized beetle with its turquoise iridescence largely intact, and two turtles caught in the middle of doing, well, turtle things. With the latest discovery of the snake-lizard-insect fossil, it is clear that the Messel Pit still has more secrets to uncover.


The discovery of the 48-million-year-old fossil with an insect inside a lizard inside a snake represents a remarkable glimpse into the prehistoric food chain. This rare and well-preserved fossil not only captivates the scientific community but also sparks our imagination, allowing us to envision the intricate tapestry of life that existed millions of years before our time. As paleontologists continue to explore the treasures of the Messel Pit, we can expect more remarkable discoveries that will further our understanding of the ancient world and the complex relationships that have shaped the evolution of life on our planet.





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