Researchers from Flinders University and the Australia National University (ANU) have reconstructed a bizarre prehistoric armored fish, named Brindabellaspis. This fish belonged to an extinct group of animals called placoderms, and had nostrils coming from its eye sockets. It also featured a long, paddle-like beak resembling that of a platypus, and swam on the sea floor like a stingray.
Placoderms were primitive-jawed fishes that lived throughout the Devonian Period (around 416 to 359 million years ago).
The first Brindabellaspis specimen was discovered near Lake Burrinjuck, southeastern Australia in 1980, but this fossil missed its snout area. The specimens that were later found by the researchers suggested that this fish had a long bill extending out in front of its eyes. According to researchers, this fish featured a unique sensory system on its snout that helped it search for prey on the sea floor.
“This was one strange-looking fish,” said Benedict King, lead author of the study and a Flinders University graduate. Benedict King is now based at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, Netherlands.
“The eyes were on top of the head, and the nostrils came out of the eye sockets. There was this long snout at the front, and the jaws were positioned very far forward.”
“Although coral reefs have always been diversity hotspots, the groups of animals making up the ecosystems have changed drastically,” King says.
“Brindabellaspis, for example, is a placoderm, a group of jawed vertebrate, often known as the ‘armoured fish’. Placoderms were the dominant fish group in the Burrinjuck reefs, followed by lungfishes.
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Gavin Young, a paleobiologist from ANU, who found the first Brindabellaspis specimen in 1969, said:
“This thing is really weird,” he said. “It doesn’t really fit in anywhere.”
He described the fossil site as a place that “just keeps giving.”
“There are over 70 species of fish known from this ancient coral reef ecosystem, and this finding shows they came in all shapes and sizes. Clearly this ancient reef was a thriving hotspot for evolution, as are the coral reefs of more recent times”.
Lake Burrinjuck site is rich in fossils, and it is believed that it was once home to an ancient reef. Researchers have discovered some earliest known examples of reef fish from this area. Recent findings have allowed researchers to better understand electroreception and the evolution of jaws in fishes.
The detailed findings of the study have been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.