This piranha-like fish tore at flesh in the Jurassic era

Piranhamesodon pinnatomus in all its fossilized glory. 

M. Ebert and T. Nohl  

Here’s another creature to fuel your nightmares.

The fossilized remains of the oldest-known flesh-eating fish with bony, webbed fins were discovered two years ago by scientists from the Jura Museum in Eichstatt, Germany. Their findings were published last week in the journal Current Biology.

The fish, dubbed Piranhamesodon pinnatomus, and several of its apparent victims were found in a quarry in southern Germany. The fish — about 9 cm (3.5 inches) long and round in shape with scissor-like sets of teeth — lived during the Jurassic period 150 million years ago.

Here is an artist’s reconstruction of the fish.

Jura Museum

“We were stunned that this fish had piranha-like teeth,” museum director Martina Kölbl-Ebert said in a statement. “It is like finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.  But what was even more remarkable is that it was from the Jurassic. Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time. Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later.”

The fish used its razor-sharp teeth to rip at the fins of other fish, evidenced in the other fish fossils from the site found with pieces of their fins missing. The scientists liken the Piranhamesodon pinnatomus to modern-era piranhas, though they aren’t related, and called this fish a “staggering example of evolutionary versatility and opportunism.”   

“The other fish wouldn’t notice it as being dangerous, because these fish with these shapes usually go for snails and sea urchins,” Kölbl-Ebert said, according to Australia’s ABC news site. “So, it would be possible to slowly approach other unwary fish, and then suddenly attack when it’s already very close.”

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