Newfound Prehistoric Shark Named After Classic Arcade Game ‘Galaga’

A newly discovered species of prehistoric shark has been given a very interesting name that echoes the popular Japanese video game Galaga, Eurek Alert is reporting.

The newfound shark species has been dubbed Galagadon nordquistae, after the 1980s arcade classic and after Karen Nordquist, the Chicago Field Museum volunteer who helped discover the species. The ancient shark was described from a number of tiny fossilized teeth, each one measuring less than a millimeter across, which were recovered from the same paleontological site that yielded the remains of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex — one of the best preserved and most complete skeletons of a T. rex ever found, currently on display at the Chicago Field Museum.

According to Popular Mechanics, Nordquist stumbled upon the microscopic fossils in 2011 while sifting through mud collected from the same South Dakota site where Sue the T. rex originated from. The soil samples had been purchased nearly 15 years before when the museum first acquired Sue.

More than a decade later, the ancient mud was finally examined by a team led by Terry Gates, a paleontologist at North Carolina State University and a researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who detailed the finding in a study published today in the Journal of Paleontology.

“It amazes me that we can find microscopic shark teeth sitting right beside the bones of the largest predators of all time,” said Gates.

“These teeth are the size of a sand grain. Without a microscope you’d just throw them away.”

Just like its minuscule teeth suggest, Galagadon was not a massive beast. The ancient predator was a freshwater shark belonging to the carpet shark family. This makes it related to the modern species that prowl today’s ocean, such as the “whiskered” wobbegong.

While most of the modern carpet shark species can grow up to four feet in length, their prehistoric ancestor — which swam the ancient rivers of the Late Cretaceous some 67 million years ago — was a lot smaller by comparison. Galagadon only measured between 12 to 18 inches and had bizarre-looking teeth.

In a recent news release, North Carolina State University points out that the infamous teeth of Galagadon were shaped like spaceships — a nod at the alien ships from the Galaga video game. At the same time, Smithsonian magazine notes that, based on the shape of its teeth, Galagadon probably looked a lot like modern-day bamboo sharks, a subset of carpet sharks found in the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific.

While the discovery of a new species of prehistoric shark is certainly thrilling, Galagadon is of major importance to paleontology as it unveils new clues about the environment in which Sue lived her life.

“It may seem odd today, but about 67 million years ago, what is now South Dakota was covered in forests, swamps, and winding rivers,” said Gates.

“‘Galagadon’ was not swooping in to prey on T. rex, Triceratops, or any other dinosaurs that happened into its streams. This shark had teeth that were good for catching small fish or crushing snails and crawdads.”

Its presence there also suggests that the swamp-like environment where Sue and Galagadon lived was connected to the sea, given that carpet sharks are generally known to be ocean dwellers. In all likeliness, the ancient sea once covering Nebraska had tributaries reaching up into the Dakotas, where the mud samples were collected.

“Without the shark teeth, paleontologists would have missed this watery connection,” states Smithsonian magazine.