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Fossil of piranha-like fish discovered in southern Germany

WASHINGTON: Scientists on Thursday claimed to 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.

The fish lived during the Jurassic Period 152 million years ago. Named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus, it is the earliest known example of a bony fish – as opposed to cartilaginous fish like sharks – able to slice flesh rather than simply swallowing prey, enabling it to attack victims larger than itself as piranhas can.Piranhamesodon, about 3-1/2 inches (9 cm) long, lived in the sponge and coral reefs of the Solnhofen archipelago, a shallow tropical sea in what is now Bavaria. Piranhas are freshwater fish that inhabit rivers and lakes in South America.

Piranhamesodon was small, but its mouth was worthy of a scary movie. It boasted long, pointed, dagger-like teeth along the outer edge of its upper jaw and at the front of its lower jaw. It also had triangular teeth with serrated cutting edges on the side of its lower jaw.

“We were stunned that this fish had teeth which are capable of slicing flesh. It comes from a group of fishes, the pycnodontids, that are famous for their crushing teeth,” said paleontologist Martina Kölbl-Ebert of the Jura-Museum Eichstätt in Germany.

“It is like finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf,” Kölbl-Ebert added. The fossil came from the same Bavarian limestone deposits as Archaeopteryx, the earliest-known bird.

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