360 million years ago, the shallow subtropical waters of what is now the state of Ohio, USA, were dominated by the first vertebrate apex predator.
This big prehistoric fish called ‘Dunkleosteus terrelli’, lived in the Devonian, between 415 and 360 million years ago. It belonged to the arthropods, an ancient family of fish.
It could have been “the first king of beasts”. With its large size, it had the ability to split a shark in two. It had the most powerful jaws of any fish, its bite rivaling that of T. rex and modern alligators.
Philip Andersonfrom the University of Chicago’s Department of Geophysical Sciences, and Mark Westneat, curator of fish at the Field Museum in Chicago, used a fossil of the creature to create a computer model of its muscles and bite, concluding that it could chew with 1,100 pounds of force, which translates to 8,000 pounds per square inch at the tip of a tusk.
The main marine predator of the Devonian period was the Dunkleosteus.
Previous estimates considered the monstrous prehistoric fish to be as long as a school bus, as it could grow to around 10 meters in length and weigh up to four tonnes.
New findings on Dunkleosteus terrelli
Now, a new study by russell engelmannpaleontologist at Case Western Reserve University, suggests that the estimated size of this prehistoric species may have been exaggerated.
Engelman compared the head of Dunkleosteus to the size of the skulls of hundreds of living and fossil fish, concluding that the prehistoric predator measured a maximum of 4.5 meters and looked like a beefy tuna.
Additionally, their research revealed that the partially armored body of Dunkleosteus was stockier and more cylindrical and, although shorter, had a larger mouth. twice the size of a great white shark and probably weighed more than the longest sharks. “It was probably solid muscle,” Engelman said.
Dunkleosteus terrelli skull on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Credit: Russell Engelman.
According to the author, the difference lies in the fact that most estimates of the length of this species were not based on reliable evidence since, having cartilaginous skeletons, only the bony and cuirassed heads of ‘Dunkleosteus’ have been preserved.
Reassessing the size of a prehistoric fish
Engelman calculated the dimensions of the fish by measuring its head and subtracting the length of the snout, following the methodology used to determine the sizes of living groups of fish and the smallest relatives of this species, of which complete fossil skeletons are preserved.
Are new size estimates they also help place Dunkleosteus in a larger scientific context. Dunkleosteus is part of a larger evolutionary story, in which vertebrates grew from small, unassuming bottom dwellers to hulking giants.
Size comparison of Dunkleosteus, a human, and a great white shark. Credit: Russell Engelman/Case Western Reserve University.
Although the reduced sizes of Dunkleosteus may seem disappointing, it was still probably the largest animal that ever lived on Earth until then,” Engelman said.
This new version of the legendary “sea monster” Dunkleosteus shows that “there are still many breakthroughs to be discovered in the world of paleontology, even with famous species”, said Patricia Princehouse, associate director of the Institute for Origins Science. of the CWRU.
Without a doubt, if the Dunkleosteus had managed to survive, it would still be considered a fearsome predator today.
The results were published in the journal Diversity.
The references: Infobae/Live Science.
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