Evidence of the world’s oldest abyssal fish discovered in the Apennines. The discovery of fossil traces dates back to the appearance of these vertebrates by 80 million years, that is, to the time of the dinosaurs. This news comes from research conducted by an international group of scientists led by Italian paleontologist Andrea Baoccon and including Professor Luca Pandolfi from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Pisa. The study was published in the prestigious journal “Pnas – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
“When we found these strange fossils at three excavation sites around Piacenza, Modena and Livorno (which from a geological point of view are part of the northern Apennines), we couldn’t believe our eyes,” says Professor Pandolfi. The reason for the astonishment is its age, which precedes any other evidence of the existence of abyssal fish by millions of years. The newly discovered fossils date back to the beginning of the Cretaceous period (about 130 million years ago) and reveal the existence of deep-sea fish already in the time of the dinosaurs.
But that’s not all, these are particularly rare and unusual finds. In fact, they are not bones, but traces that record the behavior of animals that disappeared millions of years ago, such as the jagged imprint of the tail of a fish that swam near the sea floor or fossils made by specimens in search of food.
To understand the behavior of these early deep-sea vertebrates, the researchers next explored the depths of the Pacific Ocean to study ghost sharks. The fossil traces have been found to be identical to those produced by modern fish that feed by scratching or sucking sediment, particularly the neoteliosti, the group of vertebrates that includes modern “lizard fish” (patisaurus).
“The newly discovered fossil traces are like astronauts’ footprints on the moon,” Baucon says, “they are discoveries that rewrite the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of vertebrates colonizing the abyss, an event that science still does not understand much,” since these environments often prevent fossilization. “
Hence, once again, the exceptional nature of the discovery that tells us how the first abyssal fish, thousands of meters below the surface of the Ligurian-Piedmont Ocean, encountered harsh environmental conditions. Total darkness, near-zero temperatures, and tremendous pressure put the survival of these pioneers to the test. As if that wasn’t enough, turbid currents swept across the vast mudflats where fish roamed in search of food. These extreme conditions required specific adaptations, equally important evolutionary innovations in legs and wings that allowed for the colonization of land and air.
The study, funded by the Science and Technology Foundation through the National Funds (Piddac), benefited from the collaboration of scientific institutions in Italy (Universities of Genoa, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Padua, Pisa and Parma; the Natural History Museum of Piacenza; the Museum). Natural Sciences of Alto Adige), Portugal (UNESCO Naturtigo Geopark, University of Lisbon), England (University of Newcastle), Spain (Universities of Seville and Barcelona), Australia (University of Western Australia), Scotland (University of Aberdeen). The study benefited from significant funding from the Science and Technology Foundation through the National Funds (Piddac).
“Infuriatingly humble social media buff. Twitter advocate. Writer. Internet nerd.”