A rare fish fossil estimated to be at least 50 million years old — but probably much older — and featuring a Jaws-like mouth a great white shark would envy has been unearthed from a backyard in a small western Colorado town last week after a decade of disbelief about the remains.
Jed Smith, the nephew of homeowner Susan Webster, first discovered the fossils 10 years ago, according to KJCT8.com.
But it wasn’t until earlier this year that officials at the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colo., took them seriously and launched an excavation of the scary-looking marine creature called Xiphactinus.
The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction reported that museum technicians this week “rolled out plaster-clad parts of the skull and jaw of the toothy terror of the Western Inland Sea” and hopes to have the Xiphactinus on display by next spring, though it won’t be a complete skeleton.
“We dig dinosaurs all the time and we almost never get marine fossils,” museum lab technician Kay Fredette told KJCT8.com. “It’s something new [and] different.”
The Xiphactinus was a slender, fast-swimming fish that grew to a length of 15 to 20 feet (this one was 12 feet) and had long, razor-sharp, fang-like teeth.
“It was the top predator during its day and ate several smaller fish,” Fredette told KJCT8.com. “There was a discovery somewhere else a few years back with a relatively large fish inside its stomach.”
After this week’s unearthing, Epic Wildlife profiled the fish in this short video.
Xiphactinus remains have been found in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia — which, like much of the center of North America, were covered by the ancient Inland Sea — but never as far west as Fruitas, Colo., (or its neighbor Grand Junction, depending on the source), making this find extremely rare.
It should be noted that the prehistoric carnivore is said to be from the Late Cretaceous period, which stretches from 65 million years ago to 99 million years ago, making the probable age of this find much older than what is being reported.
One thing all can agree upon, though: relief that the Xiphactinus went the way of the dinosaur.