The Triassic cuddle is a fossil that was discovered in 1975 in the KwaZulu-Natal province of Africa. The finding was remarkable since the fossil consisted of two different species, which would usually spend time in cohabitation, in a cuddle-like position.
The Triassic cuddle is one of the most fascinating fossils ever discovered. It triggered a range of different reactions in people around the world and even sparked a comic, various fan art and a Triassic cuddle song.
The Triassic Cuddle Explained
The unique fossil was discovered by palaeontologist James Kitching. At first, he believed he had discovered the remaining parts of a small mammal called Thrinaxodon.
These mammals are known to dig burrows to protect themselves from heat and other dangers. Burrows are small holes or tunnels dug in the ground by small animals like rabbits, moles — or Thrinaxodons.
But once the fossil was analyzed, scientists discovered a second set of bones. And this is what makes the finding particularly remarkable. Alongside the Thrinaxodon lay the remains of a second Triassic animal called Broomistega.
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The curious thing is that Thrinaxodons are mammals and Broomistegas are amphibious creatures. They are unlikely to be “friendly” and close cohabitation is unusual. In some cases, the Broomistega could even be considered prey for the Thrinaxodon. This led to several different theories about how these two different creatures ended up cuddling in the same burrow.
5 Scenarios that Explain the Triassic Cuddle Fossil
Let’s look at five different scenarios that could explain how the famous Triassic cuddle came about. Some of these scenarios are more likely than others, but we’ll let you be the judge of which scenario you feel like is most likely.
First of all, let’s start with how the two animals likely died and why they were preserved in the form of a fossil for such a long time. The widely accepted conclusion is that a flash flood killed the two animals while they were dug in the burrow. What scientists can’t agree on is how the Thrinaxodon and Broomistega both got into the same burrow in the first place.
Scenario #1: The Triassic Cuddle Was a Coincidence
Broomistega wouldn’t have been able to dig the burrow. So it’s pretty safe to assume that it was the Thrinaxodon that dug the burrow. One possible scenario is that the Broomistega somehow accidentally ended up in the burrow. Maybe a flood or heavy rain washed the amphibian into the burrow where the mammal was sleeping.
This is an unlikely scenario since the odds of this happening are small. The entrance to the burrow is just about as big as the head of the Broomistega, making it almost impossible for it to end up accidentally inside the burrow alongside the Thrinaxodon.
Scenario #2: Broomistega Was Thrinaxodon’s Prey
Thrinaxodons are carnivores, or in other words eat meat. One possible scenario is that Broomistega was Thrinaxodon’s dinner. In fact, research showed that Broomistega had two small bite marks above its eye.
But when scientists compared the bite marks to the jaw of the Thrinaxodon, it quickly became clear that the bite marks didn’t match the teeth of the Thrinaxodon. Broomistega’s skeletton was intact and didn’t have any other bruises or bite marks. This is why scenario two is possible but unlikely.
Scenario #3: Thrinaxodon Stashed Broomistega For Later
What if Thrinaxodon didn’t eat Broomistega right away but instead dragged it into the burrow and kept it for later. While certainly possible, this type of behavior is pretty rare among mammals. This is especially true in hot environments, such as the one where Thrinaxodon lives, where food decays quickly.
Scenario #4: Thrinaxodon Was Already Dead
Another potential scenario is that Thrinaxodon was already dead when Broomistega entered the burrow. But an analysis of the fossil led experts to believe that this scenario is unlikely as well. Thrinaxodon’s spine was curved against the wall.
This type of curvature would not be possible had Thrinaxodon already been dead. Shortly after an animal dies, the body becomes stiff and rigid, making it almost impossible to bend.
Scenario #5: Thrinaxodon Was Sleeping
The final and most likely scenario is that Thrinaxodon wasn’t dead but “sleeping” or estivating. The mammal might have been passing the summer in a state of dormancy. Broomistega probably realized this, saw no threat, and joined Thrinaxodon in the burrow. Had Thrinaxodon been awake and alive, it would have probably not ended well for Broomistega.
But the fact that the fossil was preserved like this, in the form of a Triassic cuddle, left scientists to believe that Broomistega probably saw the entry to the burrow and joined the estivating mammal. Unfortunately, both of them met the same fate when the flash flood turned the burrow into a death trap that conserved their skeletons in a way that fascinated many people.
Triassic Cuddle FAQ
Now that you know the most likely scenarios that led to the Triassic cuddle, let’s wrap up this article with a short summary and some frequently asked questions related to the topic.
What Was the Triassic Cuddle?
The Triassic cuddle was a fossil where a mammal and amphibian appeared to be spooning or cuddling, despite these two species being enemies and unlikely to cohabitate.
The fossil of the two animals led to many emotional reactions in people and creative explorations such as a comic, a Triassic cuddle song, drawings, tattoos, art and fanfiction. You can listen to the Triassic cuddle song which has over 163,000 views by the time of writing this article. And several fan-made art can be found on sites like Tumblr.
What is Thrinaxodon and Broomistega?
For a more thorough and visual exploration of the Triassic cuddle, and more specifically of Thrinaxodon and Broomistega, we recommend that you watch the following video by PBS Eons.
This video will give you a visual understanding of what might have occurred.
What happened to the Broomistega and Thrinaxodon?
The most likely explanation is that Thrinaxodon was estivating, or in other words in a summer “sleep” to escape the heat inside a burrow that it dug. Broomistega, also trying to escape and find shelter, joined the Thrinaxodon given that the estivating mammal didn’t pose a threat.
After some time, heavy rain or a flash flood turned the burrow into a death trap where both creatures were pressed up against each other in a sort of cuddling position and then were surprisingly well preserved.