Helicoprion was a genus of an extinct and poorly known order of cartilaginous fish. The whorl-toothed Helicoprion, which originally appeared in the waters of the Late Carboniferous around 280 million years ago, survived the Permian-Triassic extinction calamity and ultimately disappeared in the Triassic Period about 225 million years ago.
The three major representatives of the Helicoprion genus are H. Bessonowi, H. Davisii, and H. Ergassaminon. The majority of fossilized specimens were made up of helically structured groups of the species’ teeth, known scientifically as “tooth whorls,” which in reality were implanted in the bottom jaw, as indicated by their Latin name.
Featured Image Credit: James St. John
Helicoprion had cartilage supporting their skeletal system. As a result, as soon as the body started to rot, it dissolved completely only if extreme situations prevented it. Because of this, it has been challenging to make exact evaluations of the way the entire body resembles. According to researchers, Helicoprion had a body design like a torpedo, just like sharks, marlins, or swordfish.
Credit: Scott Heath
Helicoprion grew to an astonishing length of approximately 20-25 ft and may have weighed up to 1,000 lbs. The weight range of these would be similar to that of contemporary sharks. The teeth whorls were the focal point of the Helicoprion’s look. This often included a single tooth root with hundreds of canines buried within it.
It is believed that Helicoprion was a carnivore that specialized in bites. A diet of soft-bodied prey is theorized as indicated by Helicoprion’s distinctive saw-like teeth whorl and absence of tooth loss since hard-shelled animals would easily slip out of the jaw.
There is the emerging suggestion that Helicoprion has always been a predator of soft-bodied creatures such as invertebrates and mollusks, especially cephalopods such as octopuses. It is not considered that Helicoprion and related species had teeth that replaced themselves as quickly as present sharks.
Between the slightly earlier Permian Period, which began roughly 300-285 million years ago, and the Early Triassic, which began 40 million years ago, Helicoprion roamed the oceans. Helicoprion remnants have been discovered in the Americas, Australia, Asia, and Europe, proving that it was widely distributed throughout the Permian.
Credit: James St. John
According to scientists, there is a strong likelihood that Helicoprion existed off the southern shore of the supercontinent Gondwana and subsequently on Pangaea because of the vast occurrence of these fossils. The Permian–Triassic mass catastrophe, which wiped out 70% of all terrestrial species and 90% of any and all aquatic creatures, managed to spare the Helicoprion.
Virtually there isn’t any sufficient evidence that explored or even theorized how Helicoprion reproduced. As of now, the available fossils don’t possess notable sexual characteristics to determine the sexual dimorphism of Helicoprion. However, it is plausible to assume that Helicoprion had similar mating mechanisms comparable to modern-day shark species.
In order to release sperm and fertilize the female shark’s eggs, the male shark will put his clasper into the female’s cloaca. As the eggs develop, they resemble sharks but remain considerably smaller. When the moment is right, they muscle their way out of the womb. It is possible that Helicoprion followed a similar mating behavior pattern.
Since Helicoprion resembled a shark in both function and shape, it was the top underwater predator of its epoch, traveling around the oceans of the world and consuming smaller creatures. This fish has no noticeable natural predators or challenges because of its massive size and teeth.
Credit: James St. John
Since the Helicoprion lived during one of the most devastating global extinction catastrophes in history, how it went extinct isn’t clear. A possible leading theory is that with a majority of prey species going extinct, the Helicoprion managed to survive for a few million years while struggling until it faded out of existence.
Facts about the Helicoprion
- Helicoprion mouth resembles a buzz saw, which is where they get their name from.
- Helicoprion, unlike shark species, didn’t lose teeth.
- Helicoprion fossils were twice as large as modern humans and may have been capable of devouring them completely in one session.
- Helicoprion mouth is measured at 10 inches across, able to extend and retract.
- Helicoprion is not an ancestor of actual sharks, nor is it connected to contemporary shark species.
Was the Helicoprion a dinosaur?
The Helicoprion was not a dinosaur. Instead, it was a huge, vicious creature that resembled sharks and was an apex predator. Reconstructed models based on somewhat lacking fossil records paint the Helicoprion as a fast-moving sea creature, not related to dinosaurs by any means.
How did the Helicoprion eat?
Since Helicoprion lacked teeth on their upper jaw, the researchers hypothesize that the predatory fish would relentlessly slice at its squishy prey, such as cephalopods, and small fish, using a single column of serrated teeth and grinding them down.
How fast could a Helicoprion swim?
Although the velocity of the Helicoprion’s swimming is unknown, they were skilled swimmers because they were required to reach their prey quickly, similar to other shark-like species. A shark’s maximum swimming speed was between 31 and 35 mph; it’s safe to approximate that Helicoprion shared the same capabilities.
When were the first Helicoprion fossils found?
In the 19th century, researchers found the Helicoprion’s earliest and oldest fossil. The very first fossil was a tooth whorl fragment with 15 teeth. It was discovered in western Australia on a Gascoyne River branch. But prior research incorrectly classified this specimen as belonging to the Edestus genus.