Technology & Science

T. rex fossil leads researchers to new species of shark

Scientists examining rock left over from the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex recently came across a surprise: shark teeth.

Galagadon nordquistae named after 1980s video game

Researchers hypothesize that the prehistoric shark Galagadon nordquistae was a bottom–dweller with barbels by its mouth, like a catfish, with camouflage patterning. (Velizar Simeonovski/Field Museum/Reuters)

Scientists examining rock left over from the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex recently came across a surprise: shark teeth. 

The huge meat-eating dinosaur, the remains of which were extricated in the 1990s, was not killed by a shark. But, scientists said on Monday, when the 12.3-metre beast, known these days as Sue, died some 67 million years ago, it fell into a South Dakota river teeming with sharks — albeit small ones — thriving in the freshwater environment.

The skeleton of Sue, the largest, most complete and best-preserved T. rex ever unearthed, is displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago, which kept the leftover rock for years in underground storage. That rock has now yielded fossils from other creatures that were Sue's neighbours including a shark species called Galagadon nordquistae.

Galagadon, related to a group called carpet sharks found in Indo-Pacific seas today, measured 0.3 to 0.6 metres long, with teeth the size of a sand grain, about one millimetre. Tyrannosaurus teeth were up to 30 centimetres long. 

Each Galagadon tooth measures less than a millimetre across, helping researchers estimate the small size of the shark. (Terry Gates/North Carolina State University/Reuters)

If the sharks ever interacted with Sue, it may have been when the thirsty dinosaur came to the river for a gulp of water.

"It would not surprise me at all if a T. rex individual scared a little Galagadon as it lowered its head to drink," said North Carolina State University paleontologist Terry "Bucky" Gates, lead author of the research published in the Journal of Paleontology.

If the prehistoric shark resembled its existing relatives, it was a blunt-faced bottom-dweller with barbels by its mouth like a catfish and camouflage patterning.

The T. rex fossil known as Sue is on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. (Sue Ogrocki/Reuters)

"The teeth have an unusual shape with three unequal points and a wide apron at the root. Some of the teeth bear an uncanny resemblance to the spaceship in the 1980s arcade game Galaga, which inspired the genus name," said co-author Pete Makovicky, a paleontologist and Field Museum dinosaur curator.

Scientists also are studying fossils of at least two other shark species from Sue's river. Virtually all sharks live in the sea, though two freshwater species today reside permanently in rivers and lakes, and some other species venture into freshwater.

"I doubt Galagadon spent its whole life in freshwater habitats," Makovicky said, suggesting its river may have been connected to an inland sea 160 kilometres away that at the time split North America in half. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.