Scientists find a 150-million-year old piranha-like creature

19 Octobre, 2018, 15:19 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • 7.1 cm standard length from the Late Jurassic of Ettling Solnhofen Archipelago Germany the earliest fin-cutting piranha-like ray-finned fish

This illustration shows an artist's reconstruction of the head of the piranha-like fish.

A nearly-complete fossil of a ray-finned bony fish with extra sharp teeth has scientists thinking they've found the piranha's Jurassic equivalent.

"So when dinosaurs were walking the earth and small dinosaurs were trying to fly with the pterosaurs, fish were swimming around their feet tearing the fins or flesh off each other".

Bellwood was amazed at how similar these fish are to modern-day piranhas, which do not eat living flesh as is commonly thought, but the fins of other fishes.

"We have other fish from the same locality with chunks missing from their fins", said Dr David Bellwood of James Cook University, Australia, who is one of the authors of the study. "Feed on a fish and it is dead; nibble its fins and you have food for the future", he said.

After close inspection, the fossilised fish was found to have extremely strong jaws, revealing long, pointed and slightly curved teeth.

It also had terrifying teeth at the front of both the upper and lower jaws as well as triangular teeth with serrated cutting edges on the side of the lower jaw.

The worldwide team of scientists concluded that the pattern and shape of the teeth, jaw morphology and mechanics suggested a mouth well-equipped to slice flesh or fins.

The newly described fish is part of the world famous collections in the Jura-Museum in Eichstätt.

"It comes from a group of fishes (the pycnodontids) that are famous for their crushing teeth".

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"It is like finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf", Kölbl-Ebert added. But what was even more remarkable is that it was from the Jurassic. "Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time".

'Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Some of the incisors even came with serrated edges, just flawless for slicing flesh or fins, the researchers report.

The study was published in the scientific journal Cell Biology.

Researchers have discovered a new species of flesh-eating fish, which lived during the time of the dinosaurs. Piranhas attack other fish and tear chunks out of their fins and fin bases. The oldest-known piranhas lived around 15 million years ago.

"The new finding represents the earliest record of a bony fish that bit bits off other fishes, and what's more it was doing it in the sea", Bellwood says, noting that today's piranhas all live in freshwater. "It's a remarkably smart move as fins regrow, a neat renewable resource".

Where do we find piranhas in the modern world?

Not very, despite the best efforts of Hollywood.

These teeth, along with the morphology of the jaw, would have made the fish a successful predator. Some species eat more seeds than meat; some are vegetarian.

They will eat nearly anything when hungry - and there have been fatal attacks on humans, including a six-year-old girl in Brazil three years ago. Some say they are like a typical bony, white fish.

Either way, they are considered a relatively sustainable food, as the creatures are not overfished and are not now considered endangered by the IUCN.

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