Researchers from the University of Bristol have come upon quite a "fishy" discovery: a giant, bony fish that grew up to 52-feet long and lived 160 million years ago, the Daily Mail reports.
The Leedsichthys fish, or "leeds fish," is named after fossil collector Alfred Nicholson Leeds, who first discovered the massive fish in 1886 in England. The Leedsichthys was a filter-feeder that swam the Mesozoic seas for over 100 million years, from the middle of the Jurassic period to the end of the Cretaceous.
Though Leeds discovered the fish first, it was difficult to determine its exact length as fossils of it were only found in small fragments. Now researchers have begun piecing together samples to recreate the length and size of the giant fish by the position of its gills, and scientists think it must have weighed at least 21.5 tons, or about the weight of three African elephants.
"The existence of these large suspension-feeding fish at this time is highly significant as it would seem to be clear evidence of a major change in plankton populations in the oceans of Jurassic Earth," said Professor Jeff Liston of the University of Kunming in China and the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences.
"Leedsichthys skeletons preserve poorly, often only as isolated fragments, so previous size estimates were largely historical arm-waving exercises," he said. "We looked at a wide range of specimens, not just the bones but also their internal growth structures - similar to the growth rings in trees - to get some idea about the ages of these animals as well as their estimated sizes."
According to Professor Liston, one of the unique features of the Leedsichthys fish is that is "seems to have developed a unique mesh structure on its gills to help it extract plankton as the seawater passed through its mouth," a very different type of structure from today's fish and whales, its suspender feeder acting as a net to trap other animals for food.
The Leedsichthys fish lived for 40 years on average, using its giant gills to inhale thousands of small fish, shrimp and jellyfish.
Click here to see artists' renderings of the Leedsichthys fish and what it likely looked like as it swam the oceans 160 million years go.