Scientists said on Thursday they have unearthed in southern Germany the fossil of a fish that, with its mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, strongly resembled today's piranhas, the stars of more than their fair share of Hollywood horror films.
According to the worldwide team of researchers, the characteristics of the ancient sea creature's teeth suggest that it may have had a feeding style that is similar to that of modern-day piranhas, which are known to have incredibly sharp teeth for biting chunks off of their prey.
The early piranha-like fish probably fed in the same way as modern piranha, according to the paper published in Current Biology. The species has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus, and if you couldn't tell from its name, it was a lot like a piranha.
The 150-million-year old remains of the world's first flesh-eating fish have been found in a German quarry.
"We have other fish from the same locality with chunks missing from their fins", said David Bellwood of James Cook University in Australia. They were able to use CT-scans to look at the fossilized fish and estimate characteristics such as bite force and then compare them with modern-day piranhas.
'The new finding represents the earliest record of a bony fish that bit bits off other fishes, and what's more it was doing it in the sea, ' said Dr Bellwood said, noting that today's piranhas all live in freshwater. "Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time".
Before this recent discovery, it was thought that bony fish from the Jurassic could only crush shells or swallow their prey whole; but this new find clearly had the maws for gobbling on the fins and flesh of fellow swimmers. Some of the incisors even came with serrated edges, just ideal for slicing flesh or fins, the researchers report. Piranhas attack other fish and tear chunks out of their fins and fin bases.
"This is an awesome parallel with modern piranhas, which feed predominantly not on flesh but the fins of other fishes", Bellwood added in the statement.
"It's a remarkably smart move as fins regrow, a neat renewable resource".
"Feed on a fish and it is dead; nibble its fins and you have food for the future", Bellwood added.
Piranhamesodon was small, but its mouth was worthy of a scary movie.
Scientists say the "remarkable" bony fish lived in the sea at the same time as the dinosaurs roamed the earth and had teeth like a piranha, which it used to bite off chunks of flesh from other fish.
Piranhamesodon pinnatomus, 2.8 inches (7.1 cm) long, from the Late Jurassic of Ettling, Solnhofen Archipelago, Germany.