Philly paleontologists dub predatory prehistoric fish

    Researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences have identified a new species of predatory fish from fossils found in the Arctic Circle of Canada.

    The newly named Laccognathus embryi was up to 6 feet long with a wide head, tiny eyes, and fanglike teeth. It was a “sit and wait” predator.

    “Imagine a muddy, sort of swampy stream channel,” said paleontologist Ted Daeschler. “And an animal that might be lurking on the bottom, sort-of partly buried, waiting for something to swim above it, and then sort of shooting out and these big teeth grabbing out and twisting and dispatching its prey that way.”

    The fish had lobed fins, an early precursor to limbs. It’s one of the earliest, distant cousins of humans.

    Daeschler and his colleagues assembled the specimen with fossils collected from five trips to the Arctic Circle over the past 10 years.

    “What’s sort of cool about Laccognathus, this new discovery, is that this material we’re working with is very complete, very well preserved,” said Jason Downs, Academy paleontologist and Swarthmore professor. “So there are just great data here to really illuminate what these animals were like.”

    Downs is the lead author of the paper naming the species, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

    The species is from the Devonian period, when the earliest limbed animals were starting to appear. Daeschler said the well-preserved fossils will help shed light on what environmental changes led to the evolution of limbed land animals.

    “What was causing forms to modify, change, and evolve to the more limb-like forms, what kind of world did that happen in?” Daeschler said.

    Daeschler said the site in northernmost Canada is an especially productive one, with fossils of several other species found there yet to be named.

    Laccognathus fossils have been found in Latvia and Russia before, but this is the first identified in North America. The discovery lends further fossil evidence to a vast Eurasian continent in prehistoric times.

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