Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 96, Issue 4, pp 589–599

Fossil snake preserving three trophic levels and evidence for an ontogenetic dietary shift

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s12549-016-0244-1

Cite this article as:
Smith, K.T. & Scanferla, A. Palaeobio Palaeoenv (2016) 96: 589. doi:10.1007/s12549-016-0244-1


We report a fossil snake from the middle Eocene (48 Ma) Messel Pit, in whose stomach is a lizard, in whose stomach is an insect. This is the second known vertebrate fossil containing direct evidence of three trophic levels. The snake is identified as a juvenile of Palaeopython fischeri on the basis of new characters of the skull; the lizard is identified as Geiseltaliellus maarius, a stem-basilisk; and the insect, despite preserved structural colouration, could not be identified more precisely. G. maarius is thought to have been an arboreal species, but like its extant relatives may have foraged occasionally on the ground. Another, larger specimen of G. maarius preserves plant remains in the digestive tract, suggesting that omnivory in this species may have been common in larger individuals, as in extant Basiliscus and Polychrus. A general picture of the trophic ecology of P. fischeri is not yet possible, although the presence of a lizard in the stomach of a juvenile individual suggests that this snake could have undergone a dietary shift, as in many extant boines.


Messel Middle Eocene Palaeopython fischeri Geiseltaliellus maarius Gut contents Food chain 

Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Palaeoanthropology and Messel ResearchSenckenberg Research InstituteFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.CONICET-Instituto de Bio y Geociencias del NOA (IBIGEO)Rosario de LermaArgentina

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