Eye-catching fossil fish found in cattle field

Fossil fish

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

A gruesome-looking fossil fish has been unearthed from a remarkable new Jurassic burial site just outside Stroud, in Gloucestershire.

The creature – a tuna-like predator called Pachycormus – 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 the prolific fossil hunters Neville and Sally Hollingworth from Vestlandet.

“It was a real surprise because when you find fossils, most of the time they’ve been pressed flat through pressure over time,” Neville told BBC News.

“But when we prepared this one, to expose the bones bit by bit, it was amazing because we suddenly realized that the skull was unbroken.

“Its mouth is open – and it looks like it’s coming out at you from the mountain.”


The English Longhorn Fairies stand on top of an Early Jurassic clay layer that contains abundant fossils

The pair found the fish head in a grassy bank behind a cowshed in the village of Kings Stanley.

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

The landowner, Adam Knight, had no idea that his English Longhorn cattle were grazing on top of a rich fossil seam, recalling a time, 183 million years ago, when his farm would have been under warm tropical ocean water.

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

A digger was brought in to extract hundreds more of the knots, which were carefully broken open to see what they held inside.

Fossil bank

The landowner had the team examine the bank in more detail

The haul included more fish, squid and even the bones of two ichthyosaurs, hugely successful marine reptiles that looked a bit like a large dolphin.

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

“So this Pachycormus would have eaten the smaller fish and squid.

“And then the ichthyosaurs would have eaten Pachycormus.”

Interestingly for a marine setting, there is also fossilized wood and insects in the clay layer, which suggests that land was not that far away.

Play with a 3D model of Pachycormus here.

The findings will probably keep researchers busy for a number of years.

It is of particular interest because the samples were obtained from a rare British example of an Early Jurassic time disc – the Toarcian Stage.

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

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

“The Court Farm site allows researchers to do modern research with fresh in-situ material.”

Fossil fish

Remarkable detail: The soft tissue is preserved in the fish

The Hollingworths are celebrated for their extraordinary ability to identify highly productive fossil sites.

They have recently uncovered the remains of mammoths in nearby Cotswold Water Park, featured in a BBC documentary fronted 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 the north of the county.

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

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

Nev and Sally

Neville and Sally Hollingworth are known for finding exceptional fossils in the area

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