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New Fossilised Fish Species Discovered

02 April 2015

SWITZERLAND - Two new species of the ancient predatory fish Saurichthys have been discovered in Southern Switzerland, according to researchers from the University of Zurich.

Saurichthys fish had a long thin body and a sharply pointed snout with numerous teeth. This distinctive ray-finned fish lived in marine and freshwater environments all over the world between 252 and 201 million years ago during the Triassic period.

The fossils all came from the Monte San Giorgio UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a classic site for producing fossils from the Middle Triassic.

The first species, Saurichthys breviabdominalis, is named for its relatively short body and the second, Saurichthys rieppeli, is named after Olivier Rieppel, a Swiss paleontologist formerly based at the University of Zurich.

Including the new finds, there are now six species of Saurichthys known from Monte San Giorgio, making it both the most abundant and diverse fish at this classic Middle Triassic locality.

Both 40 to 60 cm long fishes differ from other species of Saurichthys in skull and body shape.

"These differences indicate different hunting styles and habitats in the shallow sea. This enabled multiple species to co-exist," clarified Heinz Furrer, paleontologist at the University of Zurich and author of this research project.

According to Furrer, the ability to occupy multiple specialised feeding and habitat niches may be responsible for the evolutionary success of these fishes, both in the Monte San Giorgio basin and globally.

Large-scale excavations at Monte San Giorgio conducted by the University of Zürich between 1924 and 2004 yielded a substantial number of fossil reptiles and fishes.

As part of a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, scientists at the University of Zurich have prepared and studied over a hundred well-preserved specimens over the last three years.

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