Easy Big Fella

Dunkleosteus skull at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History

Dunkleosteus skull at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History

Way before even your great-great-grandpappy was born and Ohio was ocean instead of cornfields, it was the “Age of the Fishes”.  During this Devonian (400-360 million years ago), the placoderms, giant, shark-like, armored fishes, ruled the oceans.  Among the largest and most fearsome of these were the arthrodires, the joint necks.  The lovely pet above is Dunkleosteus at 25 feet in length.  I think we are going to need more butter! Given all the weight of the armor, Dunkleosteus was probably a slow swimmer. But hey when you are that big and armored how fast do you need to be?

Illustration by Steveoc 86 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Illustration by Steveoc 86 and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Instead of teeth, those bony plates you see above would shear past one another forming vicious cutting edges.  In 2007 Anderson and Westneat, built a computer model based on this big boy’s bones and muscle attachements.  The two authors determined that a large individual could rip apart its prey with a force of 8000lbs at the tip of the jaws and with more than 11000lbs at the back of the dental plates. The authors conclude that “This bite force capability is the greatest of all living or fossil fishes and is among the most powerful bites in animals.”

Illustration by Arthur Weasley and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Illustration by Arthur Weasley and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

Anderson, P., & Westneat, M. (2007). Feeding mechanics and bite force modelling of the skull of Dunkleosteus terrelli, an ancient apex predator Biology Letters, 3 (1), 76-79 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0569

Dr. M (1756 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.


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4 comments on “Easy Big Fella
  1. Funny that you should blog about dunkleosteus the same day I heard about it for the first time…it’s in tonight’s episode of HOOKED on Nat Geo.

  2. Pingback: The Best of DSN 2009 | Deep Sea News

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