Prehistoric shark could eat “Jaws” for breakfast

In 1899, Soviet geologist Alexander Karpinsky first described the prehistoric shark Helicoprion (Greek for “spiral saw”) based on an incomplete specimen found in the Ural region of Russia. The specimen is a “tooth whorl”: a tight, deadly coil of 180 triangular teeth, and as far as paleontologists could tell, it was attached as an overhang to the shark’s jaw. Initially they thought it was used to grind the shells of mollusks, but as more fossils were found, the absence of broken teeth suggest that the whorl was used to eat animals without shells, such as squid and fish—perhaps by unfurling like a whip and spearing them. On most specimens the whorl is about the size of a dinner plate in diameter, suggesting the Helicoprion was about 4.5 m long, but one specimen has a diameter of 60 cm—making its accompanying shark up to 10 m long. The species swam the seas in the Permian era 290 million years ago, and its fossils are found all over the world, from Russia to North America to Australia. Because the only specimens found so far are of the Helicoprion’s bizarre dentitions, little more is known about this fascinating (and terrifying) creature—except that it wouldn’t be pleasant to meet in a dark alley.


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