Recently uncovered fossils have revealed a monster shark, 20-feet-long and more terrifying than any great white, that once swam the seas of the Mesozoic era.
The massive shark, Leptostyrax macrorhiza, has been detailed in a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The fossils were uncovered in 2009 by Joseph Frederickson, who is now a doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Oklahoma. At the time, Frederickson was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and during an outing with an amateur paleontology group he founded, Frederickson’s now-wife, Janessa, quite literally stumbled upon the shark’s fossilized remains.
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Tripping over a boulder, Janessa Doucette-Frederickson noticed the shark’s vertebrae protruding from the ground, according to Discovery News. The team eventually retrieved three of the shark’s vertebrae, which measured roughly 4.5 inches (11.4 centimeters) in diameter. Markings on the outside of the fossils suggested to researchers that they belonged to a group of sharks called lamniformes. This broad category of shark includes great white sharks, sand tiger sharks, and goblin sharks, among many other related species.
Frederickson’s research revealed that similar shark remains had previously been uncovered in Kansas. Fossils discovered in 1997 in the Kiowa Shale were thought to belong to a shark that measured over 30-feet-long. Upon comparison, the researchers determined that the two fossilized sharks were likely from the same species, though the Texas specimen was slightly smaller than the Kansas shark. Previously, only teeth from the massive shark had been found, making it difficult for scientists to extrapolate the animal’s size.
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The discovery looks set to shake up the current understanding of the Early Cretaceous ecosystem. Before the shark fossils were discovered, researchers believed that pliosaurs represented the only large marine predators of the era. While researchers cautioned that neither shark specimen was discovered with associated teeth, making “confident identification” of the species all but impossible, the study noted that the fossils themselves had challenged accepted theory.
“Regardless of its actual identification, this new specimen provides further evidence that large-bodied lamniform sharks had evolved prior to the Late Cretaceous.”
While the specimens may have been impressive in size, they are still dwarfed by the megalodon, the largest shark to ever exist, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Researchers say that the 20-foot-long Leptostyrax macrorhiza, however, may have had feeding habits similar to a great white shark, making it an impressive predator in the ancient world.
[Image: Frederickson JA et al, PLOS ONE via the Daily Mail]