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Paleontologists believe they've identified the remains of an 88.7-million-year-old enormous shark they suspect terrorized sea animals --thanks to a jaw with hundreds of teeth.
The newly discovered fossils show the Ptychodus mortoni probably had a 3-foot-long jaw and could grow to 33 feet in length The animal, nicknamed the "shell crusher," is believed to have had hundreds of teeth, some of which were replacement teeth ready to be used when others fell out.
Kenshu Shimada, a research associate in paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, found the shark's remains embedded in a vertical rock cliff in Kansas called the Fort Hays Limestone.
"It took pretty much the whole day to just extract the fragmentary specimen," Shimada told Discovery.com. "And more skeletal and dental parts of the shark are likely still present deep in the rock that we just simply cannot get to."
The discovery of the fossil is important since the chances of finding a shark preserved as fossils is very low, Shimada explains. The vast majority of shark fossils are mostly isolated teeth, making the uncovered jaw piece with teeth and scales intact significant.
Shimada said the "shell crusher" had advantages over other sea life, such as deterring predators and being able to travel faster -- but it also had disadvantages, most notably needing more food for energy.
Experts believe the gigantic shark possibly resembled the modern nurse shark, which has a broad, rounded head with a stout body. The pavement-like crushing tooth plates supported by its upper and lower jaws indicate that the shark probably fed on shelled animals, such as giant clams. This suggests that the shark was probably a sluggish bottom-dwelling shark, rather than an actively fast swimmer.
And experts believe that there were others out there that could have been larger.
Charlie Underwood, a University of London paleontologist, told Discovery.com that the specimen is "far from the largest," as there are isolated teeth known to come from still larger sharks.