World’s Oldest Known Piranha-Like Flesh-Eating Fish

  • Researchers found a new family of fish that resided in the ocean at the same time as the dinosaurs. 
  • They had sharp and pointed teeth like piranhas, which they used to chew off flesh from other fishes. 

Paleontologists continuously seek for information about numerous aspects of organisms that lived millions of years ago: their origin and identify, surrounding and evolution, and how these organisms can help us understand the Earth’s organic and inorganic past.

Recently, they found a new family of fish — piranhamesodon pinnatomus — that resided in the ocean nearly 150 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. As the name suggests, they were very similar to piranha in looks, had sharp and pointed teeth to chew off flesh from other fishes.

Paleontologists discovered both the piranha-like fish and its scarred prey in the same limestone deposits in Solnhofen, Germany. They are calling it an astonishing example of evolutionary opportunism and versatility.

They Fed In The Same Way As Modern Piranha

This flesh-eating fish fed in the same way as modern piranha, who doesn’t feed other fishes’ flesh but their fins. This type of behavior shows that they were smart species: they knew that fins regrow and if they nibble the fins they would have food for the future. 

Reference: Cell/Current Biology | doi:10.1016/j.cub.2018.09.013

After thoroughly analyzing the jaws of specimens, paleontologists found pointed, long teeth on the vomer’s exterior (a small, thin bone separating the right and left nasal cavities) and at the front of lower and upper jaws. They also found triangular teeth with zigzag edges on the periarticular bone located on the side of the lower jaw.

Oldest Known Piranha-Like fishFossil of Piranhamesodon pinnatomus | Credit: Martin Ebert & T. Nohl

The overall shape and pattern of teeth and jaw morphology indicate a mouth build for tearing fins and flesh. As per evidence and examinations, the early piranhamesodon pinnatomus could have had mimicked the feeding behavior of modern piranha.

This is Something Unexpected

It’s quite surprising that this flesh-eating fish was from the dinosaur-era. All bony fishes paleontologists have recovered so far didn’t bite other animals at that time. Although sharks are known for tearing flesh since they first appeared on Earth, the bony fishes have either mostly swallowed other fishes or fed on invertebrates.

earliest known flesh-eating fishArtistic impression of  Piranhamesodon pinnatomus | Credit: The Jura-Museum, Germany

This is the oldest record of a piranha-like fish that bit the chunks of other fishes, and what’s even more surprising is that they lived in the ocean. Today, all piranhas are found in freshwater.

Overall, you can say that when pterosaurs were flying and dinosaurs were walking the Earth, fishes were swimming in oceans biting flesh and fins of each other.

Read: 16 Fascinating Oldest Things Ever Found On Earth

As fossils continue to throw up such fascinating facts, researchers intend to keep pushing their searches to find more surprises.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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