Researchers discover new 91-million-year-old giant shark species in Kansas
An old shark of 91 million years was found near a ranch located in Mitchell County, recently described as Cretodus houghtonorum.
The authors, Kenshu Shimada and Michael Everhart, the Sternberg Museum researchers and two central Kansas assistants, Fred Smith, and Gail Pearson, led the discovery and excavation.
The name ‘houghtonorum’ is to honour Deborah and Keith Houghton. The land-owner couple donated the fossil to the museum for research by the scientific community.
While the skeleton that was discovered was largely fragmented and incomplete, scientists did manage to excavate 134 teeth, 23 calcified placoid scales and 61 pieces of vertebrae. Analyzing the fossils revealed that the shark was 17-feet in length when alive and could have grown up to 22 feet in length.
The shark is believed to be an ancient cousin of today’s sand tiger and great white sharks, a study of its anatomical data suggested. Today, an average modern great white shark (female) is somewhere between 15 to 21 feet long.
The large size of the shark also suggests Intrauterine cannibalism to be one of its features, ie devouring co-embryos in the womb as a source of nutrition, a trait exhibited by some carnivourous animals.
Researchers Kenshu Shimada and Michael Everhart along with two Kansas residents excavated the shark fossil in 2010 in a ranch in Tipton, Kansas, close to Mitchell County.
Archaeologists believe the area in which the fossil was found is part of an erstwhile ocean dating back to the Late Cretaceous Period that stretched from 144 million to 66 million years ago. Called the Western Interior Seaway, the ancient water body is said to have covered the middle of North America.
“Much of what we know about extinct sharks is based on isolated teeth, but an associated specimen representing a single shark individual like the one we describe provides a wealth of anatomical information that in turn offers better insights into its ecology,” Shimada said in a statement.
The fossils were initially believed to belong to another species of dinosaur-era sharks called Cretodus crassidens.
The largest ancient shark to have been discovered so far is the Megalodon that could grow to a length of 60 feet.