The Science of Nature

, 102:10 | Cite as

Evidence of a specialized feeding niche in a Late Triassic ray-finned fish: evolution of multidenticulate teeth and benthic scraping in †Hemicalypterus

  • Sarah Z. GibsonEmail author
Original Paper


Fishes have evolved to exploit multiple ecological niches. Extant fishes in both marine (e.g., rabbitfishes, surgeonfishes) and freshwater systems (e.g., haplochromine cichlids, characiforms) have evolved specialized, scoop-like, multidenticulate teeth for benthic scraping, feeding primarily on algae. Here, I report evidence of the oldest example of specialized multidenticulate dentition in a ray-finned fish, †Hemicalypterus weiri, from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of southeastern Utah (∼210–205 Ma), USA. †H. weiri is a lower actinopterygian species that is phylogenetically remote from modern fishes, and has evolved specialized teeth that converge with those of several living teleost fishes (e.g., characiforms, cichlids, acanthurids, siganids), with a likely function of these teeth being to scrape algae off a rock substrate. This finding contradicts previously held notions that fishes with multicuspid, scoop-like dentition were restricted to teleosts, and indicates that ray-finned fishes were diversifying into different trophic niches and exploring different modes of feeding earlier in their history than previously thought, fundamentally altering our perceptions of the ecological roles of fishes during the Mesozoic.


Herbivory Trophic specialization Dentition Neopterygii Mesozoic 



I thank H.-P. Schultze, M. P. Davis, W. L. Smith, G. Arratia, K. R. Smith, and P. A. Selden for their comments on the manuscript, and W. L. Smith for photographic assistance. A. R. C. Milner, J. I. Kirkland, and volunteers from the Utah Friends of Paleontology were instrumental in conducting fieldwork, specimen collection, and fossil preparation. I thank R. Irmis, C. Levitt-Bussian, J. Maisey, A. Gishlik, M. Brett-Surman, W. L. Smith, and A. Bentley for loaning or providing access to fossil and recent specimens from their respective institutions. I acknowledge the University of Kansas Department of Geology and Biodiversity Institute, the University of Utah, the Utah Geological Survey, and the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site for their support of this research. This research was funded in part by the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute Panorama Grant, and National Geographic Grant #9071-12. Specimens collected for this study were collected under Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration permits 02-334 and 05-347.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geology and Biodiversity InstituteUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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