RIVER MONSTERS PREHISTORIC TERROR: JURASSIC SIZED premieres Monday, May 25, at 8/7c. Find out more about the BADASS Helicoprion in an exclusive feature with the leading experts on the species, below.
Illustration Credit: Ray Troll 2013
Five years ago in the invertebrate paleontology collection in the basement of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, a student of Idaho University Professor Leif Tapanila, Jesse Pruitt, was searching for an undergraduate research project when he stumbled upon the Helicoprion fossil.
The spiral rock had been an anomaly for over a century, with scientists trying to figure out what was buried beneath its surface. Without the technology of today, however, most fell short, only being able to interpret the fossil for face value.
But with the help of CT scans and a lot of manual labor, Tapanila and Pruitt along with four other scientists and Alaskan artist Ray Troll, who Tapanila calls "the world expert on Helicroprions," uncovered the age-old mystery.
Together they solved how its jaw works, what its function was and where exactly the whorl, spiral of teeth, were placed in the mouths of these 275 million-year-old sharks.
So ladies and gents, I give you, the Helicoprion.
The ancient shark lived nearly 275 million years ago, with a body of up to 25 feet long and a jaw stretching two to two and a half feet. And, inside of that jaw, sat a deadly set of teeth.
But its 130 to 150 teeth didn't go from left to right like those of a normal jaw, no, these teeth spiraled outward from the inside.
A human, like many other animals, sheds its teeth, but the Helicoprion keeps every tooth its ever grown. In the center of the diagram are its baby teeth and on the outside are the newer teeth it has created, holding a lifetime of teeth! Tapanila says Helicoprions are "married to these teeth forever."
But the shark has a "storage problem," said Leif Tapanila, leader of the Helicoprion research team, because it can't shed its teeth. So instead, it "wraps its bigger newer formed teeth around the smaller teeth," hence the spiral.