Prehistoric shark’s entire skeleton is found fossilised for the first time 370million years after it went extinct

  • The species had only been known before from the occasional tooth and fin spine
  • Shark skeletons are made of soft cartilage and rarely get preserved as fossils
  • Phoebodus has a long, eel-like body with a flat head and an elongated jaw 
  • Its teeth suggest that it ate by grabbing small prey and swallowing them whole 

The fossilised skeleton of an ancient shark — Phoebodus saidselachus — has been unearthed for the first time in the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco.

Previous specimens of Phoebodus had only been known from the occasional tooth and dorsal fin spines, because their soft, cartilage skeletons are rarely preserved.

Researchers report that the shark — which lived around 370 million years ago when the region was a shallow sea — had an eel-like body, a flat head and a long jaw.

Based on its similarity to the modern frilled shark, researchers believe it consumed small prey by grasping them in its jaw before swallowing them whole.

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The fossilised skeleton of an ancient shark — Phoebodus saidselachus — has been unearthed for the first time in the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco

Experts report that the shark, pictured here in an artist’s impression — which lived around 370 million years ago — had an eel-like body, a flat head and a long jaw

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT PHOEBODUS?

Phoebodus was an ancient shark that lived around 370 million years ago.

It resembled both the modern frilled shark and a fish, the gar, but was not related to either. 

It had an eel-like body that was around 4 feet long and a flat head.

It likely ate small prey by grabbing hold on them in its jaws and then swallowing them whole.

Until a skeleton was discovered in the mountains of Moroccan, the shark had only been known from the occasional tooth and dorsal spine fin. 

Palaeontologist Linda Frey of the University of Zurich and colleagues found the fossilised skeleton in the Maïder region of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, in Morocco. 

When Phoebodus was alive, around 370 million years ago in the so-called Devonian Period, this mountainous region would have instead been the basin of a shallow sea.

Alongside the complete skeleton, the team also unearth several skulls of other individuals from the same species.

‘The nearly cosmopolitan and regionally abundant Devonian genus Phoebodus has long been known solely from isolated teeth and fin spines,’ the researchers wrote.

‘Here, we report the first skeletal remains of Phoebodus from the Famennian (Late Devonian) of the Maïder region of Morocco.’

The team found that the fossil had an eel-like, 4 feet (1.2 metre) -long body, a flat skull, elongated jaws and spines just before both of its dorsal fins. 

Phoebodus would have likely born a strong resemblance to the modern frilled shark, the team said, and the gar fish, even though the species are not related.

‘Several of these features corroborate a likely close relationship with the Carboniferous species Thrinacodus gracia,’ the researchers added.

The early Carboniferous Period — which began 358.9 million years ago — is when palaeontologists believe that Phoebodus went extinct.

This was long before its characteristic features evolved in modern sea creatures.

When Phoebodus was alive, around 370 million years ago in the so-called Devonian Period, this mountainous region would have instead been the basin of a shallow sea. Alongside the complete skeleton, the team also unearth several skulls, as pictured

Like the modern frilled shark, pictured, Phoebodus had round, pointed and inward-turning teeth, rather than ones with serrated edges. The two species, however, were not related

Like the modern frilled shark, Phoebodus had round, pointed and inward-turning teeth, rather than ones with serrated edges.

This suggests that the shark would have hunted by grabbing onto small prey and then swallowing them whole. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 

Palaeontologist Linda Frey of the University of Zurich and colleagues found the fossilised skeleton in the Maïder region of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, in Morocco

 

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