Fossils are an astonishing thing when you think about them. Organic material turned to stone, giving us a glimpse back at the animals roaming the planet hundreds of millions of years ago. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, the odds that a single organism will die at just the right time and in just the right place to be fossilized are infinitesimally small – and yet obviously it happens.
When considering the odds of any individual animal turning to rock, it makes some of these fossil finds even more mind blowing. Whether it's the exquisite level of preservation showing a moment of ancient behavior frozen in time or simply a find that no one expected, these are a snapshot of some of the most impressive fossil finds.
One of the best dinosaur fossils ever discovered (main image), the preservation of the unfortunate nodosaur that died some 110 million years ago is unlike anything seen before. Most fossils are made up of just a few of pieces of bone and teeth, but this incredible find details the skin and armor of the animal from the tip of the head to the hip. Even the pads on the bottom of the feet can be seen.
Some of the most common questions when it comes to long-extinct creatures are those that relate to what color these ancient beasts once were. Recent advances in technology mean that palaeontologists are just starting to figure out what patterns dinosaurs may have had based on the fossilized remains of pigments. However, some animals use structural colors and in some cases, such as these stunning beetles, the metallic structural colors survived the fossilization process, meaning we don’t have to imagine what they once looked like.
Fish eating a fish-eating pterosaur
Usually when studying fossils, you have to build up a picture of what the ecology at the time looked like based on what animals and plants are found in association with each other. But every so often by some truly astonishing act of serendipity, you get fossils like this. As a pterosaur skipped the water and caught a small fish, a second much bigger fish launched from the water and grabbed the pterosaur itself, an encounter that ended fatally for all involved.
Ichthyosaur live birth
The discovery of an ichthyosaur giving birth proved once and for all that, despite evolving from egg-laying reptiles, the ocean-going creatures did not come ashore like turtles to reproduce. Instead, they gave birth to live young at the surface of the water, like whales and dolphins. It is now thought that early ichthyosaurs initially gave birth head first, before later evolving to deliver babies tail first as would make sense for the air-breathing creatures.