Photo in the News: Giant "Terrible Fish" Packed Most Powerful Bite

Terrible fish skull photo
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November 29, 2006—Bite your tongue, Jaws.

This giant prehistoric sea predator packed the most powerful bite of any fish, living or extinct—strong enough to shear a shark clean in half, scientists say.

Researchers discovered this awesome jaw power while studying the fossilized skull of Dunkleosteus terrelli, or "terrible fish," a 33-foot (10-meter) behemoth that lived 400 million years ago in what is now Ohio.

Scientists from the University of Chicago and Chicago's Field Museum used the monster's skull to recreate the musculature of the fish's head and found that its colossal jaws delivered a bite with a remarkable 1,100 pounds (540 kilograms) of force.

That rivals the infamous crunch of Tyrannosaurus rex, the researchers say.

(See a National Geographic magazine feature about re-creating T. rex's bite.)

What's more, the fish's bladed, quadruple-hinged jaws focused this force at the creature's front fangs, which struck at a literally bone-crushing 8,000 pounds per square inch (562 kilograms per square centimeter)—enough to crack modern concrete.

This mighty munching power put the whole ocean on the ancient fish's menu, scientists say. Dunkleosteus dined freely on everything from giant mollusks and crustaceans to, yes, sharks, making it one of the world's first rulers of the food chain.

"Dunkleosteus was able to devour anything in its environment," lead researcher Philip Anderson, of the University of Chicago, said in a statement released yesterday.

"[Its bite] made this fish into one of the first true apex predators seen in the vertebrate fossil record," colleague Mark Westneat, the Field Museum's curator of fishes, added.

—Blake de Pastino

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