A new species of large predatory fish that prowled ancient North American waterways during the Devonian Period, before backboned animals existed on land has been discovered.
Drs. Edward “Ted” Daeschler and Jason Downs of the Academy of Natural Sciences and colleagues from the University of Chicago and Harvard University named the new denizen of the Devonian Laccognathus embryi.
The same group of researchers, who discovered Tiktaalik roseae, the important transitional animal considered “a missing link” between fish and the earliest limbed animals, discovered the 375-million-year-old beast.
The fossil remains of the new species were found at the same site as Tiktaalik, on Ellesmere Island in the remote Nunavut Territory of Arctic Canada.
The Devonian Period (415 to 360 million years ago) is often described as the Age of Fishes because of the rich variety of aquatic forms that populated the ancient seas, lagoons and streams.
Laccognathus embryi is a lobe-finned fish whose closest living relative is the lungfish. The creature probably grew to about 5 or 6 feet long and had a wide head with small eyes and robust jaws lined with large piercing teeth.
“I wouldn’t want to be wading or swimming in waters where this animal lurked,” Daeschler, co-author of the paper and the Academy’s curator of vertebrate zoology, said.
“Clearly these Late Devonian ecosystems were vicious places, and Laccognathus filled the niche of a large, bottom-dwelling, sit-and-wait predator with a powerful bite,” he stated.
The researchers named the new species in honour of Dr. Ashton Embry, a Canadian geologist whose work in the Arctic islands paved the way for the authors’ paleontological explorations.
The finding has been published in the current issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.