McWane scientists’ announce findings on groundbreaking shark fossil study

McWane shark discovery
Abigail Kelosky, Aquarist at McWane Science Center, examining an Atlantic Sharpnose Shark jaw. Photo courtesy of McWane Science Center in Birmingham, AL.

A team of scientists across the country led by McWane Science Center’s Director of Collections released a groundbreaking study today about the Atlantic Sharpnose Shark.

Keep reading to see their findings and why this multi-year study is so important.

Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks

McWane Science Center Sharpnose Shark
Illustration of an Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae). Image courtesy of Bryan Huerta-Beltrán.

Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) are most commonly found in the northern region of the Gulf of Mexico.

The team on the study explained that there is much known about this specific sharks’ habitat, lifestyle, diet and movement patterns but there is very little known about their teeth. It was recently discovered through this study that the teeth of the Atlantic Sharpnose Shark are able to provide us with a plethora of information on this species evolution.

“By gaining a better understanding of the teeth and dentitions of this species, it allows us to identify potential ancestors of this shark in the fossil record. This in turn, helps us gain a better understanding of how this particular shark lineage evolved through time and adapted to global events like climate change.” – Jun Ebersole, Director of Collections at McWane Science Center in Birmingham, AL who led the study.

What their teeth tell us

Shark teeth
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark teeth. Image courtesy of PeerJ.

Through this study of the Atlantic Sharpnose Shark teeth and dentition, the team has also discovered the following:

  • Sharpnose Shark teeth and dentitions have evolved drastically over time directly effecting dietary changes and patterns.
  • The evolution of their teeth revealed a difference in male and female shark teeth in relation to breeding.
  • Examination of these fossil teeth has allowed the team to identify several ancient shark species of the Sharpnose Shark with a likely finding that this species evolved in ancient the Gulf of Mexico.

“Sharpnose sharks appear in the fossil record approximately 55-million-years ago, with the oldest ones being recently discovered in Alabama and Mississippi. Although not definitive, this suggests that sharpnose sharks may have originally evolved in the ancient Gulf of Mexico.” – David Cicimurri

The team on the study

In addition to the lead of the study, McWane Science Center’s Director Jun Ebersole, the other scientists on the study include, Abigail Kelosky, Aquarist at McWane Science Center; Bryan Huerta-Beltrán, MS student in the School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg; David Cicimurri, Curator of Natural History at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia; and Marcus Drymon, Assistant Extension Professor at the Coastal Research and Extension Center at Mississippi State University, Biloxi.

The study, titled Observations on heterodonty within the dentition of the Atlantic Sharpnose Shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae (Richardson, 1836), from the north-central Gulf of Mexico, USA, with implications on the fossil record, was published today in the journal PeerJ. Read the full study here.

Did you know that McWane Science Center is a prominent research center? Have you visited the Collections Department at McWane Science Center? Let us know and tag us @BhamNow.

Julia-Rae Hanson
Julia-Rae Hanson
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