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Fossil find uncovers new fish species

The fossil find adds to theories that Switzerland was once under a tropical sea. Zurich University

Swiss scientists have discovered the fossilised remains of a previously unknown fish species that has lain hidden in the Swiss Alps for 230 million years.

This content was published on August 20, 2002 - 21:17

The fossilized discovery - something of a fishy version of the missing link - was made in a rock formation above the resort of Davos in the canton of Graubünden.

Switzerland's National Science Foundation believes the discovery offers fresh clues about the evolution of fish.

Annette Herzog, a Zurich University scientist, says the fish is unlike anything alive today. Herzog says the structure of the creature's jaw and skull is particularly unique.

Predator fish

The discovery prompted researchers to create a new genus of fish, named Peltoperleidus Obristi, after the Swiss palaeontologist Chirstian Obrist.

Up to 15 centimeters long, the fossilized remains shows that Peltoperleidus had rather big teeth.

"I think it was a predator," Herzog says.

The discovery was made among thousands of fossils uncovered by a research team, which has been scouring the Davos area since 1989.

Fiddly work

Finding fossils within ancient rock deposits is no easy matter. Scientists spend weeks on each fossil - one even took three months - to slowly remove the surrounding stone to uncover the fish imprint.

Every detail is then recorded and magnified.

Herzog says the fossils are only several centimetres long and give no clues about the three-dimensional shape of the creatures.

"This is pure speculation," she says.

"But we now have many more fossils than before. It's always important in paleontology to have good sample sizes", Herzog says.

"We can now see how different samples are linked and have evolved over time."

Tropical Switzerland

The Davos find also supports scientist's theories about Switzerland's environment.

"Some 230 million years ago, Davos, the surrounding region and all of Switzerland, was a marine environment," says Herzog.

"At that time, which was before the age of dinosaurs, there lived quite a few aquatic reptiles in the sea.

"This gives us the ability to understand where today's fish come from."

swissinfo

Key facts

New genus of fish, named Peltoperleidus Obristi.

Fossil found near Davos, Canton Graubünden.

More than 230 million years old.

15 cms long with big teeth.

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