Fossilized remains of six species of ancient sharks previously unknown to science have been excavated at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, with researchers congratulating the site as “one of the most diverse Mississippian shark faunas.” in North America. “
Fossils of at least 40 different species of sharks and close relatives have been discovered in remote cave locations within the park since the effort began 10 months ago. The six previously undiscovered species include large predators and small feeders beneath.
Fossils may be over 325 million years old, from which the Mammoth Cave System limestones were formed, during the Mississippian Period of the Late Paleozoic Era.
“I was amazed at the diversity of sharks we see as we explore the trails that make up the Mammoth Cave,” said John-Paul Hodnett, a paleontologist from the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, who was especially encouraged in the project.
“We do not nearly move more than a couple of feet as another tooth or spine is seen on the ceiling or wall. We see a range of different species of chondrichthyans [cartilaginous fish] which fills a variety of ecological niches, from large predators to tiny sharks living in the middle of the crinoid [sea lily] forest on the sea floor where they live. “
The National Park Service (NPS) said the new species will be described and named in future scientific publications.
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The fossil sharks discovered in the Mammoth Cave mainly contain teeth and fin fins, because cartilage, which is softer than bone, forms most of the shark skeletons.
Today is #NationalFossilDay! We are excited to announce the discovery of one of the most diverse examples of Mississippian shark fauna found in North America right here in the Mammoth Cave! Learn more at: https://t.co/umMwtvxj3G #FindYourPark #FindYourShark pic.twitter.com/m1HAzfR01G
– Mammoth Cave NP (@MammothCaveNP) October 14, 2020
However, two partially cartilaginous skeletons of different shark species were also discovered at Mammoth Cave.
“One specimen was discovered by a caver at the Cave Research Foundation and another was known by park guides for many years,” the NPS said.
“The maintenance of cartilage in the layers of Paleozoic rock is a very rare occurrence and the team has moved to fully document these specimens.”
Most shark fossils were discovered in areas inaccessible to visitors on cave tours, but park staff made 3D models of cartilaginous shark residues, and prepared photographs, rendition of artists, and three-dimensional models for the exhibition.
“We are very excited to find an important set of fossils in the park,” said paleontologist Rick Toomey, cave resource management specialist and research coordinator at Mammoth Cave National Park
“Although we knew we had some shark teeth in the limestone exposed in the cave, we never thought we would have the abundance and diversity of sharks identified by JP Hodnett.”
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