Buzzsaw Jaw Helicoprion Was a Freaky Ratfish
Of all the vexing fossil mysteries that have confounded paleontologists, few have been as persistent as that of Helicoprion – the name given to petrified whorls of elongate teeth that look like 270 million year old renditions on the theme of buzzsaw.
What sort of animal did this Paleozoic remnant belong to, and where did the circular blade actually fit on the animal? Today, Idaho State University paleontologist Leif Tapanila and coauthors announce the answer to a conundrum that has puzzled paleontologists for over a century.
Tapanila and Pruitt concluded that the Helicoprion whorls really did have their buzzsaw shape in life, but they didn’t stop there. Along with their colleagues and input from Ray Troll, the researchers launched a new, detailed investigation into the museum’s Helicoprion stores.
The fossil Bendix-Almgreen described, in particular, seemed to have the potential to yield new clues through CT scans that could visualize the internal secrets of the specimen. The scans, taken at the University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility in Austin, “came out brilliant” Tapanila says.
Not only was the fossil in better shape than expected, but the specimen elucidated two critical facets of the animal – that Helicoprion didn’t have an elongated jaw, and that it wasn’t really a shark.