This Prehistoric Predator Got Shrunk to Pint-Sized Proportions

For millions of years, many great sea beasts have risen and fallen in Earth’s oceans. Some friendly, some not so much. One of the greatest of those beasts was an armored fish that lived in the late Devonian 382 to 358 million years ago. This beast was known as Dunkleosteus.

As a child, I learned about Dunkleosteus from books and TV shows about prehistoric life. It was a huge, scary predatory fish that grew over 33 feet (10 meters) long and ate early sharks. (I mean, look at that armor and those jaws.) But all of that came crashing down in early 2023. You see, my boy Dunk? Yeah, Dunk, he got shrunk.

In a 2023 study, scientists speculated that Dunkleosteus’ size had been overestimated. Instead of a 30 foot monster, it may have only grow to a measly 13.5 feet, which is about 4 meters. To put that into perspective, great white sharks can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) in length, and Atlantic bluefin tuna can grow up to 15 feet (4.6 meters).

The 2023 Dunkleosteus compared to a great white shark and an Atlantic bluefin tuna.

So, not only was the largest Dunkleosteus smaller than the largest great white shark, but it was also smaller the largest tuna. Hmm. I guess, if Dunkleosteus lived today, it would probably be canned and used as a spread on a lot people’s sandwiches. So much for scary sea beast.

Sad as this is, our knowledge about ancient life is always changing, and new studies are always challenging current knowledge. So who knows what Dunkleosteus reconstructions may look like 10 or 20 years from now?

The armored head of Dunkleosteus.

You’ll know this, if you’ve watched my Megalodon documentary. We only have Megalodon’s fossilized teeth and vertebrae, so Megalodon’s estimated size has changed drastically over the past 100 years, and we are still debating what it actually looked like.

In the case of Dunkleosteus, we have a little more to work with. That’s because, despite being WAY older than Megalodon (like, over 335 million years older), Dunkleosteus has left a bit more fossil evidence. You see, Dunkleosteus was a type of armored fish called a placoderm, and its armored skull and jaws have been well-preserved. You may have even seen a Dunkleosteus skull on display in a museum.

An older Dunkleosteus reconstruction, featuring a shark-like body.

So we know what the head looked like, at least, but the rest of the body has been more of a mystery. For decades, Dunkleosteus was portrayed with a body similar to other placoderm species, such as Coccosteus, but in a 2017 study, scientists theorized it had a more shark-like body. With the newer 2023 study, scientists further theorized that the shark-like Dunk was a bit of a chunk and gave it the appearance of a demon shark piranha. And here we are now.

Anyways, we’re at the end of the article. If you like learning about the natural world and hearing stories about my adventures, please give this article a like, leave a comment down below, and follow Tidewater Teddy! Thanks, and have a great day!

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