In China, giant carnivorous killer lampreys from 160 million years ago are unearthed

  • The findings suggest that their Jurassic ancestors were carnivores, representing a change in the previous belief that they always fed on blood.

The recent identification of two fossil lamprey species in China, Yanliaomyzon occisor and Yanliaomyzon ingensdentes, dating to approximately 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period, has shed light on the evolution of these strange fish.

Although modern lampreys feed on blood, the findings suggest that their Jurassic ancestors were carnivorous, representing a change in the previous belief that they always fed on blood.

Lampreys are primitive fish with an elongated, cylindrical body that lacks scales. They are known for their circular mouth full of teeth that allows them to adhere to their prey, generally other fish, for food.

Although these creatures are considered “living fossils” and are believed to have appeared 360 million years ago with the first vertebrates, the oldest lamprey fossils were relatively small, raising the question of when they became giants.

The newly discovered fossils were found at the Yanliao Biota fossil site in northeastern China, in rocks dating between 158 and 163 million years old. The specimens studied measured 64 and 30 centimeters, which indicates that these lampreys were quite large for the Jurassic era.

The discovery sheds light on the evolution of lampreys and their diet. Contrary to popular belief that the ancestors of modern lampreys fed on blood, the study indicates that these two Jurassic species were carnivorous. This suggests that the meat-eating habit originated in the most recent common ancestor of modern lampreys.

According to the study’s lead author, WU Feixiang, “Our study determined that these Jurassic lampreys are the closest fossil relatives of extant lampreys.” The analysis reveals that modern lampreys did not always feed on blood, and the evolution towards this behavior occurred at a later time.

The Jurassic marks a milestone in the evolutionary history of lampreys, since before, during the Paleozoic era, these creatures had much smaller bodies and weak teeth, which did not allow them to be predators. However, as more advanced fish with finer scales appeared, a new food source opened up for the lampreys, leading them to adapt to this new environment and adopt carnivorous behavior.

Studying these lamprey fossils provides valuable information about the evolution of these creatures, how they adapted over time, and how their current feeding behavior originated. The discovery in China sheds light on the biology and evolutionary history of lampreys, revealing their transition from carnivores to blood feeders. These Jurassic fossils represent a key piece in the puzzle of the evolution of these peculiar creatures.