New marine gar fish fossil discovered in Morocco

An international team of paleontologists has made a fascinating discovery, identifying a new species of ancient gar fish that flourished in marine environments around 66 million years ago. This meter-long fossil, found in a Cretaceous marine deposit, offers compelling evidence that gars were predominantly marine during the Late Jurassic period.

The newly identified species, Grandemarinus gherisensis, is the first complete specimen described from such a marine deposit, providing valuable insights into the evolutionary history of these fish. The findings challenge the previous notion that gars were primarily freshwater dwellers and indicate that they likely originated in the sea before adapting to freshwater habitats over time.

The discovery was published in the journal Cretaceous Research, with the new species named after renowned American ichthyologist Lance Grande, who has dedicated his life to studying garfish evolution.

Professor David Martill from the University of Portsmouth, one of the paper’s authors, expressed the significance of this finding, emphasizing that mostly complete specimens of ancient gars are extremely rare. The fossil, originally from Asfla, a Saharan oasis in Morocco, was spotted for sale online by an undergraduate paleontology student. Both the student and Martill were eager to repatriate the specimen to its original home and preserve it for scientific study.

The gar fish typically possess an elongated snout and rows of sharp, needle-like teeth, ideal for catching smaller fish and insects. However, this newly discovered species has an unusually short snout compared to the length of its head, suggesting a different hunting style. The short, robust jaw might have been used to crush hard-bodied prey like crabs and small turtles.

While analyzing the specimen, researchers noticed that a “fake fin” had been added, most likely by the original preparator to enhance its appearance before sale. Nevertheless, the rest of the fossil is undoubtedly genuine.

The research team, consisting of experts from different parts of the world, employed cutting-edge paleontological analysis and phylogenetic reconstruction to gain insights into the early evolution of gars. The team’s work has shed light on the unexpected presence of a complete garfish in a deep-water marine environment, as modern gars are primarily found in freshwater and brackish water environments in North and Central America.

The scientists hope to uncover more marine gar specimens to further their understanding of the early evolution and distribution of these fascinating creatures during the Cretaceous period. This discovery has opened up new avenues of exploration in the study of garfish and their historical ecological adaptations.

Source: University of Portsmouth

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