Scientists recently discovered a fossil of a piranha-like fish that lived in the ocean about 150 million years ago.
The discovery is remarkable because scientists previously thought bony fish during this period were not capable of the flesh-ripping feats that modern-day piranhas are capable of. They thought that bony fish during that time could only swallow prey whole.
The way a piranha feeds is pretty innovative. Rather than eating a whole fish, it bites off its fins. This is a good strategy because a fish can regrow its fins, giving the piranha a renewable food source.
Now, we know that piranhas were not the first to evolve this feeding method. The newly discovered Piranhamesodon pinnatomus may be the oldest flesh-eating fish.
But wait, weren't sharks eating flesh back in the Jurassic Period?
Yes, there were sharks back then, and their jaws were just as formidable as modern-day sharks. But there is an important distinction in that sharks have skeletons made of cartilage. Bony fish are an entirely different group of fish.
The excavators who found the fossil also found many of the fish's victims in the vicinity.
The researchers not only found that this particular fish had teeth like a piranha, but also that other fossilized fish nearby it had pieces of their fins missing. These two pieces of evidence point to the conclusion that this particular fish was snacking on the fins of other fish in this same region.
Another surprising thing about this fish is that it is not related to the piranha at all.
P. pinnatomus is a member of the family that includes trout, grouper and cod. It was a saltwater fish, whereas the piranha is a freshwater fish. The fact that this ocean species has pointy, serrated teeth is an example of convergent evolution, where species that are not related develop similar characteristics.
One of the researchers likened this discovery to "finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf."
This fossil was discovered in Germany, which used to be covered by a shallow sea. Excavators have been finding many interesting things in this fossil bed, and more discoveries are surely still to come.