U.S. and Swiss researchers saw the fossil of a 1.8 meter (5.9 feet) bony fish boasting of long jaws as well as sharp teeth. The type of jaw and teeth suggested that the creature likely chomped its prey before swallowing it whole, much like the modern shark.
The fish belongs to a formerly unknown species dubbed the Birgeria americana, and it is thought to have dwelled the sea once covering present-day Nevada and surrounding states a million years following a mass extinction event around 252 million years earlier.
During that event, up to 90 percent of marine animals were wiped out, and biodiversity recovered in different phases throughout a 5-million-year period. Scientists previously assumed that the first predators on top of the food chain did not show up until around 247 to 235 million years ago.
“The surprising find from Elko County in northeastern Nevada is one of the most completely preserved vertebrate remains from this time period ever discovered in the United States,” said lead author Carlo Romano of University of Zurich in a statement.
The fossil is a 26-centimeter-long (0.85 feet) partial skull, with three parallel rows of teeth measuring up to 2 centimeters long along the margins of the jaw. There are also a number of smaller teeth inside.
The species hunted prey similar to how a shark would, pursuing and biting it before swallowing it whole.
The fish predates the Ichthyosaur, Nevada’s famed fossil, by over 30 million years. It was a 55-feet-long reptile with a massive concentration of fossils found near Berlin, Nevada, reported Associated Press.
The fossil finding is deemed crucial because of how it shed light on the quick evolution of large predators after the said mass extinction preceding the Triassic period.
It showed, for instance, that a large fish was able to survive in water formerly believed to be too warm to be conducive to life.
It shows that “previous interpretations of past biotic crises and associated global changes were too simplistic,” added Romano, noting that despite the harshness of extinctions and climates during that time, the food webs were able to bounce back faster than we assumed.
Researchers learned of the fossil around five years earlier after Jim Jenks, a fossil collector from Utah, found it and turned it over to a museum.
The findings were detailed in the Journal of Paleontology.