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Fossil Squid Preparation: Not Your Grandma’s Calamari Recipe

August 14, 2012

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.

Photo of a fossil squid pen

An “appetizing” pen of the fossil squid Tusoteuthis on display at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Center in Manitoba, Canada

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.

Field image of the block that contains the conus

Field image of the block that contains the conus. Not very appetizing, you can barely see the squid (far left on specimen image).

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.

Photo of tools used to prepare the squid

Tools used to prepare the squid: pin vise, dental tools and small paint brushes.

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!

Photo of annoying bivalve (Volviceramus) with small oysters

Annoying bivalve (Volviceramus) with small oysters (bottom center) and some broken pieces of more bivalves (bottom left).

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.

Photo of  approximately half the conus and small section of the rachis of a fossil squid pen

Approximately half the conus and small section of the rachis of a fossil squid pen. Not as appetizing as I would like, but this was my first attempt at at new “recipe.”

Simple Recipe for Fossil Squid:

Follow one squid around ‘til it dies

Wait ~80 million years

Remove any surrounding sediments

Remove any extraneous mollusks

Add consolidant

DO NOT EAT!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Lindsay E Zanno permalink
    August 28, 2012 1:03 pm

    Reblogged this on EXPEDITION LIVE!.

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