Paleontologists Discover Never-Before-Seen Ancient Fish Species

Paleontologists Discover Never-Before-Seen Fish Species

The species, called Candelarhynchus padillai, is the first fossil ‘lizard fish’ from the Cretaceous period ever found in Colombia and tropical South America. Oksana Vernygora

Paleontologists from the University of Alberta have discovered a never-before-seen species of fish in South America, with the help of a curious tourist.

The fossil, called Candelarhynchus padillai, is approximately 90 million years old, and has no modern relatives, explained Oksana Vernygora, Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences and lead author on the study.

The discovery was made with the unlikely assistance of a young tourist, visiting the Monastery of La Candelaria, near the town of Ráquira Boyacá, Colombia. “A kid was walking into the monastery during a tour when he noticed the shape of a fish in flagstones on the ground,” explained Javier Luque, Ph.D. candidate and co-author on the study. “He took a photo and, a few days later, showed it to the staff at the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontologicas, a local museum with whom we collaborate to protect and study fossil findings from the region.”

Staff at the center recognized the image as a fossil fish right away and shared the finding with their colleagues at the University of Alberta. Alison Murray, professor of biological sciences and Vernygora’s supervisor joined their colleagues in Colombia to retrace the steps of the young tourist. The team found a nearly perfect, intact fossil of an ancient fish. In fact, it was the very first fossil ‘lizard fish’ from the Cretaceous period ever found in Colombia and tropical South America.

Candelarhynchus padillai

Two sides of the newly discovered fossil fish. The part and counter-part of the specimen that are preserved in what used to be flagstones in the monastery. Credit: Oksana Vernygora

Rare discovery

“It is rare to find such a complete fossil of a fish from this moment in the Cretaceous period. Deepwater fish are difficult to recover, as well as those from environments with fast-flowing waters,” said Vernygora. “But what surprises me the most is that, after two years of being on a walkway, it was still intact. It’s amazing.”

Aside from an incredible origin story, this discovery contributes to the growing and important body of literature on the fossil record in the tropics.

“The tropics worldwide are hotspots of diversity,” explains Luque. “Interestingly, we know a great deal about modern biodiversity in these areas, but the fossil record is poorly understood in comparison. This adds another piece to that puzzle.”

And the importance of understanding fossil fish, Vernygora explains, is often underestimated.

“Often we think, we have fish now, we had fish then, and we’ll likely have fish in the future. But the importance of fish is just that,” she said. “We can see how fish have changed as their environments have changed throughout history. Studying fish diversity gives us amazing predicting power for the future–especially as we start to see the effects of climate change.”

Reference: “A new Cretaceous dercetid fish (Neoteleostei: Aulopiformes) from the Turonian of Colombia” by Oksana Vernygora, Alison M. Murray, Javier Luque, Mary Luz Parra Ruge and María Euridice Paramo Fonseca, 13 November 2017, Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
DOI: 10.1080/14772019.2017.1391884

8 Comments on "Paleontologists Discover Never-Before-Seen Ancient Fish Species"

  1. Looks lke a cross between a barrauda abd a swordfish.

  2. Considering the “end of the dinosaurs” was 65mya; this is a remarkable find. We have no idea what exists in the black waters of the oceans depth. Perhaps, our successors…!!!

  3. It will remain “extinct” until one shows up in the waters off Chile like the Coelocanth(?).

  4. R Daneel Olivaw | February 18, 2018 at 4:05 am | Reply

    You read any article now and people just have to refer to climate change… its like in the middle ages if you didnt explain something with references to the Bible and to God it was not good. Its really sad how this topic has poisoned our lives.

  5. Kinda funny a kid discovered it, yet the “discovery” credit goes to folks sitting in their labs and classrooms….. could’ve at least named the new species after the kid.

  6. David Marjanović | May 8, 2020 at 3:56 am | Reply

    Paleontologists Discover Never-Before-Seen Ancient Fish Species

    Oh, that’s so cute! Have I got news for you… paleontologists discover never-before-seen ancient fish species every day. Literally every single day.

    I mean, there’s a new species of Mesozoic dinosaur every week at the most, and that’s a much smaller group!

    Biodiversity is a lot larger, and has long been a lot larger, than you ever seem to have imagined.

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