According to new research, the remains of one of the largest sharks that lived during the Jurassic Period have been unearthed in Bavaria, Germany. The extremely well-preserved remains were found in the Solnhofen Limestones that formed in a tropical-subtropical lagoon landscape approximately 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic Period.
The almost-complete two and a half meter long skeleton belonged to an extinct hybodontiform shark species called Asteracanthus ornatissimus. The Asteracanthus ornatissimus was first scientifically described over 180 years ago by a Swiss-American naturalist named Louis Agassiz who studied fossilized dorsal fin spines of the species but “articulated skeletal remains have never been found — until now,” noted the researchers.
Dr. Sebastian Stumpf from the University of Vienna explained that the remains included more than 150 teeth that contained a well-developed central cusp as well as numerous smaller cusplets. “This specialized type of dentition suggests that Asteracanthus was an active predator feeding on a wide range of prey animals.”
Dr. Stumpf and his colleagues explained that “Hybodontiform sharks are the closest relatives of modern sharks and rays.” “They first appeared in the latest Devonian, about 361 million years ago, survived two of the big five Phanerozoic mass extinction events, and finally became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, about 66 million years ago.”
As for what they looked like, they had two dorsal fins that were supported by an outstanding fin spine. Their bodies could grow as large as 3 meters in length (almost 10 feet) which made them one of the biggest sharks during that time. To put this into better perspective, the experts noted that “modern sharks and rays, which were already diverse during the Jurassic, only reached a body size of up to 2 meters (6.6 feet) in maximum length in very rare cases.”
Dr. Stumpf added that the Asteracanthus ornatissimus “was certainly not only one of the largest cartilaginous fishes of its time, but also one of the most impressive.” A reconstructive image of what the Asteracanthus ornatissimus would have looked like as well as pictures of some of the bones can be seen here.
Their study was published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology where it can be read in full.