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Whorl tooth sharks of Idaho: Catching the biggest fish of the Permian

Helicoprion is one of the most distinctive fossils to come out of the ground in the Intermountain West.  More than 150 teeth are arranged in a perfect spiral the size of a dinner plate or larger. Helicoprion fossils have been found all over the world in marine rocks that are 270 million years old, including the phosphate rocks mined in our region. Owing largely to a century of active mining, Idaho boasts the greatest number of Helicoprion specimens in the world, 30 of which are curated at the Idaho Museum of Natural History. Our large collection gives us a unique opportunity to study the animal in great detail, and this lecture will highlight some of the new discoveries our team has recently made, which includes the first images of the animal’s jaw and a new reconstruction of this magnificent animal.

The story of Helicoprion is not just a report on an extinct fish, it is more like an epic fisherman’s tale. Anyone who has seen this iconic fossil will agree that it is hard to imagine how the spiral of teeth could function, or what the animal looked like. Indeed, more than a century of scientists have tried to make sense out of this fossil, only to be frustrated by the rarity and poor preservation of the fish. This talk will chronicle the many people who have obsessed over the Helicoprion mystery and whose ideas helped in achieving our new model.