World’s earliest flesh-eating fish: Scientists find a 150-million-year old piranha-like creature

The 150-million-year old remains of the world’s first flesh-eating fish have been found in a German quarry.

The ‘remarkable’ bony fish lived in the sea when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and had teeth like a piranha, which it used to rip off chunks of flesh from other fish.

Scientists also found the unfortunate half-eaten victims of this predator on the same limestone deposits in the quarry of Ettling in the Solnhofen region of south Germany.

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The 'remarkable' bony fish lived in the sea at the same time as the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and had teeth like a piranha, which it used to rip off chunks of flesh from other fish

The 'remarkable' bony fish lived in the sea at the same time as the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and had teeth like a piranha, which it used to rip off chunks of flesh from other fish

The ‘remarkable’ bony fish lived in the sea at the same time as the dinosaurs roamed the Earth and had teeth like a piranha, which it used to rip off chunks of flesh from other fish

Scientists led by David Bellwood of James Cook University have described the remarkable new species of bony fish, called Piranhamesodon pinnatomus.

The researchers call the new find a ‘staggering example of evolutionary versatility and opportunism.’ 

‘We have other fish from the same locality with chunks missing from their fins,’ said Dr Bellwood.

‘This is an amazing parallel with modern piranhas, which feed predominantly not on flesh but the fins of other fishes.

‘It’s a remarkably smart move as fins regrow, a neat renewable resource. Feed on a fish and it is dead; nibble its fins and you have food for the future’, he said.

Careful study of the fossilized specimen’s well-preserved jaws revealed long, pointed teeth on the exterior of the roof of the mouth.

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 tooth pattern and shape, jaw morphology and mechanics suggest its mouth was well-equipped to slice flesh or fins, the international team of researchers report.

The early piranha-like fish probably fed in the same way as modern piranha, according to the paper published in Current Biology.

‘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,’ said Dr Bellwood said, noting that today’s piranhas all live in freshwater.

‘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.’

The evidence points to the possibility that the early piranha-like fish may have fed in the same way as modern piranha, according to the paper published in Current Biology

The evidence points to the possibility that the early piranha-like fish may have fed in the same way as modern piranha, according to the paper published in Current Biology

The evidence points to the possibility that the early piranha-like fish may have fed in the same way as modern piranha, according to the paper published in Current Biology

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

‘We were stunned that this fish had piranha-like teeth,’ said Martina Kölbl-Ebert of Jura-Museum Eichstätt (JME-SNSB).

‘It comes from a group of fishes (the pycnodontids) that are famous for their crushing teeth. It is like finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.’

Dr Kölbl-Ebert said it was particularly remarkable considering it was from the Jurassic period.

‘Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time’, she said.

‘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.

‘Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later.’

 

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