Secondary sexual characteristics are features that appear at sexual maturity and distinguish the two sexes of a species. They are readily observed and studied in living animals, but the phenomenon is rather more difficult to identify in fossil taxa. Here we report a new sexually dimorphic stem-neopterygian fish, Venusichthys comptus gen. et sp. nov., based on 30 exceptionally well-preserved specimens from the Middle Triassic (Pelsonian, Anisian) Luoping Lagerstätte of eastern Yunnan, China. The discovery represents the oldest known secondary sexual characteristics in Neopterygii. These characteristics, including pointed tubercles on cranial bones, scales and fins, and hook-like contact organ anterior to the anal fin, have three inferred primary functions: maintenance of body contact between the sexes during prespawning behavior or spawning; stimulation of the females during breeding; and defense of nests and territories. Lacking a specialized anal fin in the presumed males, Venusichthys would likely have a different reproductive strategy from peltopleurids and other potentially viviparous stem-neopterygians. Moreover, Venusichthys shows a unique character combination distinguished from any other stem-neopterygian families and consequently represents a new family of this clade. As such, the new finding provides an important addition for understanding the behavior, reproduction, and early diversification of Neopterygii.
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We thank M.M. Chang for constructive suggestions, H. Furrer and M. Richter for access to comparative fossil material in the Paläontologisches Institut and Museum, Universität Zürich (Zürich), and the Natural History Museum (London), respectively, and J.A. Finarelli for stylistic improvement. The research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41272002) and the State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy (Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences; 143114).
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Xu, GH., Zhao, LJ. A Middle Triassic stem-neopterygian fish from China shows remarkable secondary sexual characteristics. Sci. Bull. 61, 338–344 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11434-016-1007-0
- Sexual dimorphism
- Breeding tubercles