Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 6, 2010 : Xiphactinus (Extinct)


Xiphactinus (from Latin and Greek for "sword-ray") was a large, 4.5 to 5 m (15 to 20 feet) long predatory bony fish that lived in the Western Interior Sea, over what is now the middle of North America, during the Late Cretaceous. When alive, the fish would have resembled a gargantuan, fanged tarpon (to which it was, however, not related). The Portheus molossus described by Cope is a junior synonym of the species. Skeletal remains of Xiphactinus have come from Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia in the United States, as well as Europe and Australia.

Xiphactinus audax was a voracious predator fish. At least a dozen specimens have been collected with the remains of large, undigested or partially digested prey in their stomachs. In particular, one 13 feet (4.0 m) fossil specimen was collected by George F. Sternberg with another, nearly perfectly preserved 6 feet (1.8 m) long ichthyodectid Gillicus arcuatus, inside of it. The larger fish apparently died soon after eating its prey, most likely due to the smaller fish prey struggling and rupturing an organ as it was being swallowed. This fossil can be seen at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas.

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