New Prehistoric Shark Looks Like the Devil

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A new prehistoric shark, Diablodontus michaeledmundi aka “Devil-Tooth,” has been found in a chunk of Flagstaff, Ariz., limestone.

The shark must have been super tough, as its species survived the world’s biggest extinction event (the Permian-Triassic extinction).

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Devil Tooth not only had wickedly shark teeth, it also sported head spikes that gave it a devilish appearance. The spikes either evolved for defense or for sexual selection. In other words, the spikes must have turned on members of the opposite sex, similar to how horns of some animals today catch the eyes of potential mates.

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The shark, discovered in what is known as the Kaibab Formation of Arizona, represents a new extinct genus and species. It is described in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin.

This particular Devil Tooth individual lived about 260 million years ago. Lead author John-Paul Hodnett, a Northern Arizona University post-graduate, told me that Devil Tooth was a hybodont, or hump-toothed, shark. Hybodonts were an “extinct group of sharks that were close kin to modern sharks,” he said. “Hybodont sharks evolved during the late Paleozoic (approximately 300 million years ago) and miraculously survived the Permian-Triassic extinction event (approximately 252 million years ago) into the Mesozoic (the age of reptiles),” Hodnett continued.

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In addition to its hook-shaped head spikes, Devil Tooth had spines on the front and back of its fins. It possessed an asymmetrical tail, a feature of many modern sharks. Its teeth were “advanced,” Hodnett said, as they had “well developed pointed cusps with slight cutting edges, a feature which was not seen until later hybodonts during the beginning of the Mesozoic.”

The shark retained a primitive root structure, however, more like that of early sharks. The size of its teeth suggests that Devil Tooth was close to 3.5 feet in length. Hodnett compared it to living leopard sharks, at least in terms of probable hunting style. Devil Tooth likely spent its days searching for small fish, soft-bodied marine animals and other sea life along coastal waters between the bottom and mid-water.

When Devil Tooth was alive, the Kaibab Formation “was a shallow marine sea that bordered to the west of a great desert during the middle Permian period (270-260 million years ago). At this time the ancestors of modern sharks were just starting to diversify, but remained small,” Hodnett explained.

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He added, “On land, early reptiles that would later give rise to modern reptiles, dinosaurs/birds, and mammals were rapidly diversifying. Today, the area where we collect these teeth is a Ponderosa pine forest located on the Colorado Plateau, just south of the Grand Canyon.”

Images: Top: A simple reconstruction of Devil Tooth. Bottom: The front (left photo) and (right photo) rear teeth of Diablodontus michaeledmundi; the scale bars are one millimeter in length. Credit: John-Paul Hodnett

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