A 300-year-old cousin of sharks, nicknamed the Godzilla shark after its discovery in 2013, was finally given its own name after being classified as its own species.
Paleontologists have found an unusually complete and well-preserved fossilized skeleton of an ancient shark 6.7 feet (2 meters) long at a private site in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico. The outstanding features of the skeleton include 12 rows of piercing teeth set in robust, powerful jaws and a pair of barbed legs 0.8 m long (0.8 m) on the back.
His nickname was the Godzilla shark because of its size – the skeleton is the largest fossil of its kind ever discovered in the area – and the reptilian nature of the thorns on its back, John-Paul Hodnett, who first unearthed the fossil and conducted new research, Live Science said.
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“I’m also a big fan of the Godzilla film franchise,” said Hodnett, a paleontologist with the Maryland Capital Parks and Planning Commission. “So when the characteristics of this shark came to light, I thought it was the perfect nickname.”
The shark is now officially named Hoffman’s dragon shark (Dracopristis hoffmanorum), after a family that owned the land where the skeleton was found, and as a tribute to its monstrous, reptilian appearance.
“It is very rare to find the skeletal material of ancient sharks, let alone a complete skeleton that has also preserved body contours and other soft tissue prints,” Hodnett said. “That and the fact that it’s a new species was also amazing and unique.”
Hoffman’s dragon shark belonged to a group of mysterious ancient sharks known as Ctenacanths that diverged from modern sharks and air about 390 million years ago during Devonian period. The remarkably well-preserved skeleton allowed researchers to learn more about this poorly understood group.
One of the biggest differences between Ctenacanths and modern sharks is their jaws. “Their [Ctenacanths] the jaws are bigger, they are more firmly attached to the skull, which makes them less flexible, ”Hodnett said.
These fixed jaws may mean that Ctenacanths are not peak predators like modern sharks. Instead, the new fossil suggests they may have occupied another ecological niche.
“We suggest this from the anatomy of the pectoral fins and tail Dracopristis he was most likely a predator clinging to the bottom of the ancient estuary of the lagoon in which he lived, “Hodnett said.” Teeth are also more adapted to catching and crushing prey such as crabs and small vertebrates. “
The researchers suggest that the large spines on the backs of Hoffman’s dragon sharks could have been used as a defense against larger sharks. The large shark teeth found in the area prove this to be the case, according to a press release from the Natural and Scientific Museum of New Mexico (NMMNHS).
Ctenacanths became extinct during the event of mass extinction in the end Permian period 252 million years ago, which led to the end Paleozoic era. However, the exact cause of death of sharks is still unclear.
Researchers are now looking for more Ctenacanth fossils in the area to learn more about their life history traits – evolutionary characteristics such as longevity, growth rate, age of reproductive maturity, and reproductive production.
“We can’t reliably reconstruct the life characteristics of a species based on just one specimen,” co-author Eileen Grogan, a biologist at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia, told Live Science. “A more holistic understanding of the characteristics of life history requires greater sampling between size, gender, and the environment in which the organism existed.”
The study was published online on April 15 Bulletin NMMNHS.
Originally posted on Live Science.