Mark McMenamin is not a crazy guy. His sanity (and excellent taste) is proved by the fact that he was among the first people to buy a copy of BONE WARS. So when he (and his dynamic spouse Dianna Schulte McMenamin) start talking about ancient giant icthyosaur-killing squids, people pay attention. Lots of people: the story is all over the Web today.
Here's the scoop. Out in Nevada there's a fossil bed with the remains of at least nine great big shonisaurs, a type of icthyosaur. Those were fish-shaped air-breathing reptiles of the Triassic era, and based on their teeth modern scientists believe they ate Triassic squid, much as sperm whales do today.
The mystery about these remains is how come there are nine dead icthyosaurs, all at least forty feet long, all in one place, and all laid out in the same direction?
There have been several suggestions: a mass stranding in shallow water (but the surrounding rock looks like old ocean bottom, not beach); or mass poisoning by some kind of aquatic plant toxin (but that wouldn't normally make the animals all drop dead at the same place).
Mark McMenamin has decided that this is murder, and someone's responsible. His candidate for the killer: Cthulhu.
Well, not quite Cthulhu, but pretty darn close. His theory is that the remains are a deep water garbage midden, left by a very very big cephalopod (100 feet long) which preyed on shonisaurs. This kind of preying on each other relationship exists in modern oceans between sperm whales and giant squids. If you're a sperm whale, sometimes you eat the squid and sometimes the squid eats you.*
For extra creep factor, McMenamin noticed that the disarticulated vertebrae of the shonisaurs seemed to be arranged in neat lines, like pieces of a puzzle. He thinks the cephalopod did that, too.
Cast your mind back to the black abyss of the ancient Triassic seas, where a giant tentacled monster sits atop the bodies of the foolish vertebrates that dove too deep in search of food and fell victim to something greater. The monster rasps the meat off the bones with its beak, and then plays with the left over bits, lining them up and caressing them with its arms in the dark.
Good thing there's nothing like that around today, right? Right?
*Or not. As our reader Danna Staaf points out, the squids may sometimes make the whales fight for their meals, but they don't eat them. At least not on a regular basis. Presumably because the giant Triassic super-cephalopods lurking on the seafloor chase them away.