Named By: John Strong Newberry - 1889.
Classification: Chordata, Chondrichthyes, Elasmobranchii, Symmoriida, Stethacanthidae.
Species: S. altonensis, S. productus, S. praecursor, S. mirabilis, S. resistens, S. thomasi.
Size: Approximately 70 centimetres long.
Known locations: China, Europe, North America and Russia.
Time period: Late Devonian.
Fossil representation: Many specimens making Stethacanthus one of the best represented of early shark.
shark, Stethacanthus immediately stands
out from its modern
day brethren. Unlike the triangular dorsal fin that people associate
with sharks today, The dorsal fin on Stethacanthus
was shaped like an
anvil. In addition to the unusual shape, small spikes covered the
growth as well as appearing on top of the head. These spikes were
larger versions of the placoid scales that cover the entire bodies of
sharks and work by reducing drag and allowing sharks to swim more
efficiently. It is still unknown what benefit the large spikes
provided, but with its distinctive dorsal fin, Stethacanthus
had no problem recognising others of its own species. Further, it seems
that only the males had this 'brush' of spikes. Two long cartilaginous
tendrils also trailed from the back of pectoral fins, but there exact
purpose is also unknown.
It is thought that Stethacanthus dwelled in coastal waters feeding upon fish and cephalopods much like modern sharks do today. Large quantities of Stethacanthus teeth concentrated in some locations has led to speculation that Stethacanthus may have migrated to breeding grounds during the course of its life.
In 1982 another specimen of Stethacanthus dubbed the 'Bearsden Shark was discovered in Scotland near Glasgow. This was a very important find as much of the cartilaginous skeleton was preserved. Such an occurrence is extremely rare and this makes the Bearsdon shark fossil one of the best preserved shark fossils in the world.
- Carboniferous fishes from the central western States - Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 39:163-226 - C. R. Eastman - 1903.
- Two new Stethacanthid sharks (Stethacanthidae, Symmoriida) from the Pennsylvanian of Indiana, USA - Palaeontographica Abteilung A 213:115-141 - R. Zangerl - 1990.
- Early Carboniferous Fishes (Acanthodian, Actinopterygians, and Chondrichthyes) from the East Sector of North Qilian Mountain, China - Vertebrata PalAsiatica 42(2):89-110 - N. Wang, J. Fan & W. Wang - 2004.