In the famed Yanliao Biota of North China, known for its well-preserved dinosaur, pterosaur, and early mammal fossils dating back roughly 160 million years, paleontologists have uncovered a surprising find. Fossils of two large ancient lamprey species, distinct from their modern counterparts, were found, shedding light on their feeding habits.
Unlike modern parasitic lampreys known for their blood-sucking tendencies, the fossils of these ancient species suggest that they were flesh eaters. The arrangement of teeth and other feeding structures in the fossils indicates this unique feeding mode. These findings were published on October 31 in the journal Nature Communications.
The newly discovered fossils represent the oldest lamprey specimens to clearly exhibit a preference for a specific feeding mode. Interestingly, the tooth arrangement of both ancient species closely resembles that of a modern Southern Hemisphere flesh-eating lamprey species.
The larger of the two ancient lamprey species is named Yanliaomyzon occisor, with “occisor” translating to “killer” in Latin. It reached a length of about 64 centimeters, roughly the size of a small dog. The smaller cousin, Y. ingensdentes, derived its species name from the Latin for “large teeth.” Modern adult lampreys vary in length from about 15 to 120 centimeters.
This discovery provides valuable insights into the diversity of ancient lamprey species and their feeding habits during the Yanliao Biota’s ancient era.