Fossil or Fantasy?

Are you ready to give your imagination a workout? Good–here goes.

I love prehistoric animals. I don’t believe in evolution, but I do love fossils. And one of the strangest fossils ever known to science is that of a creature dubbed “the whorl-toothed shark.” (There are pictures available at many websites. For instance, check out the article on Wired Science Blogs/Laelaps.)

All they’ve got of this creature is a coiled-up strap of… teeth. It looks like somebody coiled it so it would fit in a toolbox. The mystery is where it fit on the shark.

In 1899 the original discoverer imagined it attached to the shark’s snout. That wasn’t entirely convincing, so later reconstructions attached it to the shark’s back, the lower jaw, or inside the shark’s throat. The structure of the thing called to mind a rolled party favor–the kind you blow on to make it shoot out. Scientists tried to imagine the shark doing something like that when it encountered a school of prey fish. Blaaap! Whick-whick-whick! Instant sushi.

The bottom line is, they still don’t know. Sharks have cartilaginous skeletons, so it’s very rare for anything to be preserved but the teeth. But here we have a whole collection of teeth in an arrangement seen nowhere else in nature, and no one has been able to imagine the living animal in a way that provokes a response of, “Oh, yeah–that must’ve been the way it was.”

Far be it from me to suggest that the shark carried the strap of teeth in a toolbox and snapped one off when needed.

But I do suggest, as a general rule, that when something in nature looks so strange as to defy analysis… well, maybe it isn’t really what it looks like.

One comment on “Fossil or Fantasy?”

  1. I looked it up, thanks!

    Paul Herbert : family of Zimmerman sui juris sovereign living soul, holder of the office of Bexar County Sheriff Inhabitant on the land of Texas republic

Leave a Reply