EDMONTON – The petrified find in the Mediterranean Sea has proved to be a peaceful discovery for scientists mapping the evolutionary history of fish.
A new study by an international team of scientists found that hagfish, the eel-shaped marine creature found in today's waters, are narrower cousins of the lamprers than previously thought.
But there was another interesting finding – namely, the slime.
Philip Currie, professor of Alberta University and research department of dinosaur paleobiology, co-author of the book, published in the PNAS scientific journal.
After meeting Fossilized Hagfis in 2013, Currie was hit by the fossilized soft tissue of creation.
A paleontologist, who usually works with dinosaur fossils, said that bones usually look like darker colors in the rock, while softer tissue appears as a spiritual image in a lighter hue that surrounds it.
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"In this case, the ghost image is basically all we look at," Currie said. "Because they have such a soft body, there are very, very, very few fossils for these things."
Like a bizarre sea serpent, the hagfish has a torn mouth and tongue full of jagged teeth that use to peel off meat from dead and dying fish for food.
The strange face of hagfish is not enough to dare a predator. This is where the slime comes.
The glands in the creature create a substance that it releases through its pores when it is in danger. This substance extends into water to form a kind of mucus that clogs the frogs of birds of prey who are hungry for hagfish.
The test battery confirmed that a 75 million-year-old to 100 million-year-old specimen found in Lebanese limestone had traces of slime stored in fossilized soft fish tissue, linking the ancient ancestor with his modern descendants.
"She has very close modern relatives that it's really difficult to distinguish," Currie added. "And that's just because the specimen is so preserved and we get the very front of the body, we can see that snout."
The finding also helped fill the gap with a bigger question that seeks to find hagfish compared to lamprey and other vertebrate fish on the evolutionary tree.
While both eel-like animals are without waiting, the anatomical differences between these two methods suggest that they have separated long ago.
But light beams that have more punches (also lined with rows of toothed teeth) are considered to be closely related to jaw fish than their cousins, Currie says. But thanks to the detailed fossil, the jagged twins found themselves closer to each other rather than the more advanced fish that is today.
"They seem to be a separate line that has separated from what has become a modern fish," Currie explained. "So it is so that both are their own family – more like cousins rather than one of them is an uncle and one is third or fourth cousin.
Hamdi Issawi is an Edmonton reporter dealing with the environment and energy. Follow it on Twitter: @hamdiissawi