Scorpaena prior. St. Margarethen in Burgenland. 14 million years.
St. Margarethen is a world-class lagerstätte, but most of the scientific sensations from this site seem commonplace. The scorpion fish is an exception.
DEADLY LACK OF OXYGEN
Scorpion fish today are one of the most deadly species of fish, with a venom that causes lasting and violent pain, and can even be fatal for humans. Probably, the scorpion fish with its impressive spines had few enemies 14 million years ago. However, the threat posed by the algae was too much for it.
For many years, the quarry in St. Margarethen, with its superbly preserved fossil fish, was a riddle for paleontologists. Recent investigations have shown that the tropical bay was subject to algae blooms in the Miocene as a result of steadily rising temperatures. The same phenomenon that affects the Adriatic today led to extreme oxygen shortage 14 million years ago as well. Many animals, including fish, died in the shallow waters. As even scavengers were unable to live in this hostile environment, the fish corpses were undisturbed in the oxygen-starved sediment.
Flounder, sharks, barracudas, and even remains of a giant shark have all been found at St. Margarethen. Many modern fish families, such as parrot fish, have also been found here, helping to identify biogeographical connections.
However, St. Margarethen is known as more than just a fossil fish trap. The Leithakalk (Tertiary limestone) that is still quarried here was a popular stone for building among the Romans. In Vienna, Leithakalk was used for almost all the grand architecture, including St. Stephen’s Cathedral and most of the buildings along the Ringstrasse.