Creature feature: Who’s scarier — shark with buzz-saw bite or lamprey?

Feb. 28, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

If you thought the Creature from the Black Lagoon was terrifying, check out the new artist renderings of the Helicoprion–a giant shark-like animal that swam the seas roughly 270 million years ago.

What sets the Helicoprion apart from any other animal known to swim, walk or fly on Earth, is its terrifying teeth: Fossils show that the Helicoprion had up to 150 thin, sharp, serrated teeth that spiraled around each other. The smallest teeth are in the middle of the spiral, which looks a bit like a buzz saw.

For more than a century, Helicoprion fossils have baffled scientists who were unclear where on the animal the crazy tooth spiral belonged. Was it on the tip of its nose? Or part of a sharp dorsal fin? Or did the animal wield it like a weapon on its tail?

Paleontologist Leif Tapanila believes he has found the answer. After taking a CT scan of  an especially good fossil specimen, he  was able to show that the tooth spiral was attached to the animal’s jaw. In a study published in the journal Biology of Letters he explains that the deadly tooth spiral was located at the bottom of the Helicoprion’s mouth in the same place that the tongue is located on humans.

“Imagine you moved the tongue out of your mouth and replaced it with these spiral teeth and they are poking up toward the roof of your mouth as you bite,” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Tapanila explained that the Helicoprion only had 15 or 18 of its most recent teeth in use at a time. These were visible when the animal opened its mouth, and they were arranged in a semi-circle that went from the front to the back of the mouth.

“When the jaw closed, it rotates forward back, so you are getting 15 teeth slashing across the meat—kind of like a buzz saw, except it can’t move 360 degrees,” he said. “The jaw rotates maybe a quarter turn and runs those teeth into the meat.”

Tapanila said that the Helicoprion, which grew to lengths of up to 25 feet, were certainly terrifying, but there are other sea monsters living today that are plenty frightening in their own right, like say a bloody lamprey–an eel-like creature with its own rows of jagged teeth.

Photos of the specimen, which looks like something straight out of H.P. Lovecraft, have been popping up all over the Internet this week.

“Those scare me far more than the Helicoprion would,” he said. “If you got bit by my animal you’d die right away, but the lamprey will latch onto you and gnarl you up.”

–Deborah Netburn


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3 Responses to Creature feature: Who’s scarier — shark with buzz-saw bite or lamprey?

  1. erik says:

    A "successful" lecture defending creation! So all the evolutionist changed their minds after you spoke and now agree with you? I find that hard to believe. You may be a "Who's Who in the East" but in the west your just a crack-pot creationist that peddles lies trying to uphold a dying religion that has become an embarrassment to most rational thinkers. Save your rhetoric for the GOP where you will find others who cling to these outdated and ridiculous theories

  2. Justanotherdude says:

    You go right ahead and keep believing that

  3. Phil says:

    Religion and Science are two different things my friend; believe what you want but please don't equate Science with Religion. Scientific method allows for corrections to be made and theories to be refined (IE searches for answers). Religion is a hard coded doctrine where nothing is allowed to change and all beliefs must conform with the original assumption (trying to make things fit what has already been concluded). If you actually had a biology degree from a reputable college you would know the difference!

    p.s. The god particle has nothing to do with god (please do some research as to where the name came from at least)…

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