The creature from 1954's "Creature from the Black Lagoon" has some new competition in the most frightening sea monster competition. (Universal)Link
Helicoprion reconstruction. (Ray Troll)Link
Calamari for Helicoprion. (Ray Troll)Link
Leif Tapanila with two of the world's largest Helicoprion fossils. (Ray Troll)Link
A century of ideas about Helicoprion. CT evidence leads to a new make-over. (Ray Troll)Link
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.”