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 (1606 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





, , ,
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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>