A previously unknown sea creature that looks like a cross between a shark and a stingray has been discovered in the world's largest cave system.
Researchers found several small spoon-like teeth within the Ste. Genevieve Formation rock layer at Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, belonging to the ancient species.
The US National Park Service (NPS) revealed the new species had been discovered on Wednesday (October 11) to mark National Fossil Day. The creature is an extinct species of petalodont (petal-toothed) shark. It has been named Strigilodus tollesonae.
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NPS Superintendent Barclay Trimble said: "We are excited to finally announce the discovery of our first new shark species at Mammoth Cave on National Fossil Day. Teams of geologists, palaeontologists, park staff and volunteers have been hard at work deep inside the cave identifying and collecting fossils since the paleontological resources inventory began in 2019."
S. tollesonae is actually more closely related to modern ratfish than it is to sharks or rays. An NPS spokesperson told Newsweek it would have lived somewhere between 340million to 320million years ago.
Researchers believe the shark may have lived like a modern skate or ray, feeding on snails, bivalves, soft bodied worms and smaller fish. The teeth had rounded cusps for grasping hard shell prey and ridges for crushing.
The Latin name translates to Tolleson’s Scraper Toot, honouring Mammoth Cave National Park Guide Kelli Tolleson who played a key role in the paleontological resources inventory (PRI) project.
Since the PRI began in 2019 at least 70 species of ancient fish have been identified at Mammoth Cave. The team has surveyed more than 25 caves and passages, conducting daring expeditions into tiny crawl spaces.
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