Fossils of six ancient shark species previously unknown to science have been found in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and researchers have described the site as “one of the most diverse fauna of Mississippi sharks in North America.”
Fossils of at least 40 different species of sharks and close relatives have been found in remote cave sites of the park since 10 months ago. The six previously undiscovered species include large predators and small feeders.
The list of fossils may be more than 325 million years old, at which time the limestones of the Mammoth cave system were formed during the Mississippi period of the late Paleozoic period.
“I’m absolutely amazed at the variety of sharks we see as we explore the passages that make up the Mammoth Cave,” said John-Paul Hodnett, a paleontologist with the Maryland National Capital Commission for Parks and Planning, who was recruited specifically for the project.
“We can hardly move more than a couple of feet when another tooth or ridge is seen in the ceiling or wall of a cave. We see a number of different species of chondrites. [cartilaginous fish] which fill a variety of ecological niches – from large predators to tiny little sharks that lived among the crinoids [sea lily] a forest on the seabed that was their habitat. “
The National Park Service (NPS) said the new species would be described and named in a future scientific publication.
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Fossil fossils of sharks found in Mammoth Cave consist mainly of teeth and spines of fins, as cartilage, which is softer than bone, makes up most of the skeletons of sharks.
Today #NationalFossilDay! We are pleased to announce the discovery of one of the most diverse examples of Mississippi shark fauna found in North America right here in Mammoth Cave! Learn more at: https://t.co/umMwtvxj3G #FindYourPark #FindYourShark pic.twitter.com/m1HAzfR01G
– Mammoth Cave NP (@MammothCaveNP) October 14, 2020
However, two partial cartilaginous skeletons of different species of sharks were also found in the Mammoth Cave.
“One specimen was discovered by a speleologist from the Cave Research Foundation, and another has been known by the park’s management for years,” the NPS said.
“Preservation of cartilage in Paleozoic rocks is very rare, and the team encouraged thorough documentation of these specimens.”
Most shark fossils have been found in areas inaccessible to visitors during cave tours, but park staff have made three-dimensional models of cartilaginous shark remains and are preparing photographs, artist representations and three-dimensional models for the exhibition.
“We’re excited to find such an important set of fossils in the park,” said paleontologist Rick Toomey, a cave resource management specialist and research coordinator at Mammoth Cave National Park.
“Although we knew we had a few shark teeth in the limestone exposed in the cave, we never thought we would have the large number and variety of sharks identified by J. P. Hodnet.”
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