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New Species of Ancient Sharks Found In Alabama

Source: Freepik / Ebersole et. al. via Phys

Sometimes fossil research comes out of the most unlikely of places. The continental United States has seen its fair share of new fossil discoveries, but it’s generally in places like Utah, where it’s well-known that there was once an ancient lake to bury old fossils. States like Alabama are rarely the first thought when it comes to groundbreaking paleontology, but that’s exactly where exciting new fossil discoveries have been made.

A New Species Discovered from Old Gatherings

Investigation into a group of shark teeth gathered years ago in Alabama has introduced a new species to the fossil record. The new shark is a species of Palaeohypotodus, which means “ancient, small-eared tooth” in reference to the small points that are found on either side of the teeth.

Source: McWane Science Center, via Phys

The new shark species was named Palaeohypotodus bizzocoi, after the late Dr. Bruce Bizzoco from Birmingham, Alabama. Bizzoco was a longtime volunteer for the McWane Science Center, and the naming of the species after him is a dedication to his lifelong commitment to education.

A Surprise of a Discovery

The discovery of the shark teeth themselves were a bit of a surprise. Dr. Jun Ebersole, the Director of Collections at the McWane Science Center, was looking through the historical fossil collections at the Geological Survey of Alabama and came across a box of shark teeth that had been gathered more than 100 years before.

Source: McWane Science Center, via Phys

Given his work with the Center and his own paleontological research, Eberson was surprised that he didn’t recognize the particular shark that the teeth belonged to. It didn’t take him long to realize that he was looking at the teeth of an entirely new shark species.

Relics from the Paleocene

Research into this particular species of shark revealed some fascinating aspects. Particularly, when the shark lived is especially notable. Another researcher on the team, David Cicimurri, explained that the shark lived during the Paleocene, approximately 65 million years ago.

Source: Julien Bidet via Wikimedia Commons

This is a period of time that is particularly under researched in paleontological studies. It is the time period that occurred directly after the extinction of the dinosaurs, the extinction event that killed approximately 75% of life on earth. At the time, this shark was likely one of the leading predators in the recovering oceans.

A Tropical Ocean

In Alabama, much of the southern half of the state was covered by a shallow tropical ocean during the Paleocene. This is why so many notable species of sharks have been discovered in the fossil record of the area, and makes Alabama a particularly important area for paleontological research.

Source: Joanbanjo, via Wikimedia Commons

Discoveries of sharks such as the Bizzocoi help scientists to gain a greater understanding of exactly how life recovers after a major event such as a mass extinction. It also gives us more information to predict how factors such as climate change might affect marine life today, and can possibly give us tools to fight mass extinctions in the future.

More Discoveries Out of Mammoth Cave

The discovery of the Bizzocoi is not the only new discovery that’s been made in the state of Alabama, though. Mammoth Cave National Park, a beautiful natural reserve on the border of Alabama and Kentucky, has recently provided not one, but two new discoveries of ancient shark species.

Source: National Parks Service

The discovery was made through the ongoing Paleontological Resources Inventory (PRI). This is a research team that has been put together to discover and catalog new fossils and species from ancient time periods. The park teamed up with the National Park Service Paleontology Program, as well as the University of Alabama Geological Sciences Department in order to make the discovery happen.

The Trimblei

There were two different species of shark discovered through the analysis of fossilized teeth and a set of gills that was discovered in the depths of Mammoth Cave. The first shark was identified through adult and juvenile teeth found in St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve Formations, and the Bangor Formation.

Source: National Parks Service

The ancient fish, named Troglocladodus trimblei, would have been about 10 to 12 feet long, which is about the size of a modern day oceanic white-tip shark. Its name means “cave branching tooth,” and it was also named after one of the first scientists to discover it.

The Ctenacanth Shark

The second shark is a genus of ctenacanth shark, and was identified using teeth found in the St. Louis, Ste. Geneveive, and Haney formations at Mammoth Cave, and the Hartselle and Bangor formations in Alabama.

Source: National Parks Service

This species was discovered not only through the identification of fossilized teeth, but also a partial set of jaws and gills. This kind of fossil was the first of its kind for this particular genus of fish, and dates the origin of the fish back more than 50 million years earlier than expected.

About Mammoth Cave

According to the research team, these sharks were part of a population that hunted near the shores of the ancient ocean approximately 325 million years ago. It was part of a waterway that connected eastern North America, Europe, and northern Africa prior to the formation of the supercontinent Pangaea.

Source: National Parks Service, Deb Spillman

Through the excavation of Mammoth Cave, one of the oldest networks of caves and tunnels in North America, more than 70 species of ancient sharks and fish have been discovered. These species lived in the prehistoric ocean that formed the network of caves, where water trickling through limestone deposits helped to form the tunnels.

Future Research Opportunities

The new discoveries are remarkable progress in paleontological research in the area, and give a clearer idea as to the species that lived in the area at the time, as well as the environment that they lived in.

Source:Tribal via Wikimedia Commons

Ongoing research into the caves will continue to learn as much as possible about the Paleocene and the Mammoth Cave tunnel network. The study of ancient fish species is important not only for our understanding of ancient species but also for the future global warming and cooling patterns of the planet, in a world that is getting hotter by the year.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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