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Ooooh, Barracuda!

Barracuda are fearsome aquatic predators, also known within pop culture for that song by Heart. The fish (not the song) within the genus Sphyraena have a virtually global distribution, but tend to hang out in nice and warm tropical or subtropical waters. Recent discoveries in Madagascar expand their fossil record and inform our view of past ocean environments around this island.

Distribution map of barracuda today (in blue), with fossil sites indicated by dots. From Gottfried et al. 2017, CC-BY.

Although fish teeth have a reputation among non-fish paleontologists as somewhat uniform and non-diagnostic, this is definitely not always the case. Barracuda teeth, with their famed fangs, can be fairly easily recognized by a trained eye. Researchers exploring the Miocene-aged rocks (around 10-20 million years old) on the island of Nosy Makamby turned up more than 80 specimens during a series of expeditions to the area. Combined with evidence of tropical invertebrates and microorganisms, the barracuda teeth support the view that the ocean at this time was already fairly warm and tropical. That’s much like the waters around Madagascar today!

Fossil barracuda teeth from Madagascar. From Gottfried et al., 2017. CC-BY.

These fossil teeth are described in a PLOS ONE paper appearing this week, by Mike Gottfried and co-authors. Bit by bit, discoveries such as these fill out our picture of the past.

Gottfried MD, Samonds KE, Ostrowski SA, Andrianavalona TH, Ramihangihajason TN (2017) New evidence indicates the presence of barracuda (Sphyraenidae) and supports a tropical marine environment in the Miocene of Madagascar. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176553.

Image credit for banner: Tim Sheerman-Chase, CC-BY

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