Fossil Squid Preparation: Not Your Grandma’s Calamari Recipe
There are two things that come immediately to mind when I hear the phrase squid preparation: fishing and calamari. I happen to enjoy both immensely. Squid are commonly used as bait for fishing and though there are lots of ways to “prepare” the squid, cutting it into strips seems most efficient. When it comes to making calamari “preparing” the squid can be quite involved, depending on the recipe you are using. But whether you are cutting squid as bait or making calamari there is one step that is common to both…REMOVE THE PEN! Otherwise your bait won’t flutter enticingly through the water and your calamari will be crunchy in ways no one will applaud you for. Preparing fossil squid is a whole other kettle of fish.
Fossil squid generally have their tasty soft-tissues already removed, either by predators or through diagenesis. What’s left is the pen. The goal in preparing fossil squid is to make the pen look appetizing.
Since the end of April, I have been slowly preparing a fossil squid in the Paleontology Lab in the Nature Research Center. For this I have mostly been using a pin vise and dental tools. Dan Lawver, my partner in squid misadventures, found this particular squid fossil, in Kansas, during last year’s big squid hunt. As we were removing this squid from the surrounding hillside, we accidentally broke it into two pieces. The piece I’ve been preparing contains ≈ half the conus, the flat part. Here’s how I’ve been preparing it.
Initially, this piece of the conus was below, technically above (I’m preparing my squid upside-down) several layers of what I presumed was only gypsum and chalk. But as I was working my way down to the actual squid I noticed there was a big bivalve (Volviceramus) in the way. Can’t have that! We’re not making guazzetto. This was going to be a challenge, because the layer Volviceramus was in was very close to the squid. I managed to successfully expose the bivalve along with several small oysters.
But here’s the glitch, I don’t need these other mollusks floating around in my fossil calamari, so they have got to go. To do this I slowly started to undercut the extraneous mollusks and eventually, with the help of the Paleontology Lab Assistant Director, Paul Brinkman, was able to remove the interlopers. With a little more preparation, to remove the intervening sediment layers, finally squid!
Well… okay, I admit it doesn’t look like much, but to me it is the most appetizing thing in the world. Here’s why? Along the way we were able to analyze the sediments, the bivalves and flaked-off pieces of the squid and we now know the mineral composition of all of them. For my research this is huge! So it may not be the best looking calamari you’ll ever see, I doubt you could catch a fish with it, and I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to eat it, but you can learn a lot from the process of making it.
Simple Recipe for Fossil Squid:
Follow one squid around ‘til it dies
Wait ~80 million years
Remove any surrounding sediments
Remove any extraneous mollusks
DO NOT EAT!