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A Ptychodus shark fossil present in Mexico

Romain Vullo

Exquisitely preserved fossils of a shark that thrived through the Cretaceous interval seem to unravel a long-standing thriller round the way it hunted and the place it matches into the shark evolutionary tree.

Fossil enamel from sharks within the genus Ptychodus have made their means into museums for over 200 years, and whereas some members of this group clearly grew huge, the remainder of their anatomy remained largely unknown.

This left researchers not sure concerning the shark’s total look and feeding habits, though the broad, flat form of the enamel suggests they have been suited to crushing hard-shelled prey.

Now, Romain Vullo on the College of Rennes in France and his colleagues have reported the invention of six spectacular, full-body Ptychodus fossils in Mexico. They reveal that this shark belonged to the Lamniformes, a bunch encompassing many fashionable shark species, starting from nice whites to basking sharks.

That is intriguing as a result of, no matter their weight loss program, lamniform sharks are typically extremely energetic predators that hunt in open water, in contrast to any shell-crushing, or durophagous, organism alive at this time.

“The particularity of Ptychodus is that it’s so far the one identified open-water, fast-swimming shark with a durophagous weight loss program,” says Vullo. “This implies that ptychodontids preyed on well-armoured pelagic [open-water] organisms, akin to massive ammonites and sea turtles.”

Whereas the people they studied are small, at beneath 3 metres, the researchers estimate from tooth dimension that some members of the genus reached round 9.7 metres in size. That is roughly double the size of nice whites – the females are typically bigger and usually measure between 4.6 and 4.9 metres.

For a time through the Cretaceous, Ptychodus sharks have been actually quite a few, and are prone to have been key gamers in marine meals chains, says Charles Underwood at Birkbeck, College of London, but we knew subsequent to nothing about them till now. “It’s nearly the final jigsaw piece in placing collectively Cretaceous ecosystems,” he says.

Primarily based on their dimension and feeding habits, it’s attainable that Ptychodus species have been in competitors with massive marine reptiles, which additionally developed crushing dentition through the late Cretaceous, says Underwood. This will likely assist clarify why Ptychodus sharks seem to have died out a while earlier than the end-Cretaceous extinction occasion that worn out the non-avian dinosaurs, he says.

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