The diced carrot syndrome

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1943

For many of my childhood years I wondered why every time I vomited, it looked as if the vomitus contained diced carrot. True? You have found the same. Even when you haven’t eaten diced carrot for several months.

I also thought that my stomach was like a tray with compartments, with one for potatoes, another for cabbage, etc. How did the food know which compartment to dive into? My young mind worked that one out as well – it was the uvula (the clapper thingy at the back of the throat) that kicked the potatoes in the correct direction. No wonder I ended up studying medicine at university.

However, minds greater than mine (who actually know about the uvula) have announced to the world that a dinosaur-like animal that looked like a dolphin and swam like a fish can add another string to its bow – it was frequently as sick as a parrot.

Scientists have discovered the oldest fossilized vomit of ichthyosaurs, (an ancient marine reptile that lived 160 million years ago) which delighted in feeding off squid-like prey which had indigestible shells. For those who are worried, you are not likely to accidentally step on fresh ichthyosaur vomit as it is fossilized vomit that has the researchers all excited.

The scientists unearthed the regurgitated stomach contents of ichthyosaurs in a clay quarry near Peterborough, north of London, which has provided the researchers with a fascinating insight into the feeding habits of these long-extinct creatures.

“We believe that this is the first time the existence of fossil vomit on a grand scale has been proven beyond reasonable doubt,” said Peter Doyle, professor of geoscience from the University of Greenwich.

“It seems that ichthyosaurs regularly regurgitated the harder elements of its meal, rather like an owl coughs up a pellet of indigestible bones and fur after digesting its prey.  (I knew there was a reason I have never trusted owls.)

“The vomitus, known as “splat” contains the distinctive shells of belemnites, the nutritious shellfish on which the ichthyosaurs fed, which 160 million years later have been partly only digested by the reptile’s gastric juices.

“The Peterborough belemnite shells, viewed under a powerful electron microscope, have revealed acid-etching marks caused by the digestive fluids from the gut of the marine reptile,” Professor Doyle said.

“This proves that the belemnites had been eaten by a predator. The fact that most of these belemnites were juveniles, reinforces our view that the belemnites did not die of old age,” he said. The plot thickens. (Or is that the splat thickens?)

It seems that Ichthyosaurs were to ancient reptiles what dolphins and whales are to mammals today, an animal perfectly adapted to a fully marine life which evolved from a terrestrial ancestor, and not the other way around as popular comic book ‘science’ would have you believe.

Professor Doyle, who made the discovery with Jason Wood of the Open University, said the fossil vomit clears up a long-standing mystery of what happened to the shells of its belemnite diet.

“It is highly unlikely that these shells passed through the ichthyosaur’s intestines and were excreted as droppings, as they would have damaged the soft tissue of the reptile’s internal organs,” Professor Doyle said.

“The only scientific alternative is that the shells were vomited out, in much the same way that modern-day sperm whales regurgitate the indigestible beaks of squid they have eaten,” he said.

As an adjunct to the ichthyosaur story, it has been postulated that the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs co-existed, and the ichthyosaurs were preyed upon by the much larger plesiosaurs, thus causing the smaller animal to ingest prehistoric squid.

And to bring the item right up to date, Angela Milner, associate keeper of paleontology at the Natural History Museum in London, says this idea (of having stones in the plesiosaur’s stomach) makes sense. “I don’t think it has been suggested before that (gastroliths) might have acted as a gastric mill, but there is no real reason why not,” she said.  All that just to eat the belemnites.

And to throw the Xenosmilus (prehistoric cats) amongst the pterodactyls, the Loch Ness Monster was a plesiosaur.