Yikes: Giant Lamprey Eel Fossils Tell of a Terrifying Jurassic Reality 

Gena Melendrez / shutterstock.com
Gena Melendrez / shutterstock.com

Paleontologists have found the fossils of two lamprey species dating back 160 million years. These ancient lampreys, unearthed in North China’s Yanliao Biota, offer remarkable insights. These ancient species were surprisingly gigantic, growing more than ten times longer than their ancestors, which only grew to several inches long. The largest among them, Yanliaomyzon occisor, measured just over 25 inches from head to tail. While today’s lampreys can reach over 39 inches long, these Jurassic lampreys were giants for their time. 

The remarkably well-preserved fossils provide clues about lampreys’ evolution and feeding habits. Paleozoic lampreys lacked the teeth and feeding structures necessary to be efficient predators, leading researchers to think they grazed on algae. However, these newly discovered species displayed fearsome upgrades compared to their smaller, weaker ancestors. Scientists found teeth, jawbones, and even the skulls of unidentified bony fishes preserved in both fossil species’ intestinal tracts, proving they were flesh eaters. 

Scientists previously believed that the biogeographic source for modern lampreys was in the Northern Hemisphere, during the early Mesozoic. However, these discoveries now suggest that the Southern Hemisphere, specifically during the Late Cretaceous, is the most likely origin for lampreys. 

But the sea was already terrifying long before giant lampreys came on the scene. 

In an English museum, paleontologists stumbled upon the fossilized remains of a “truly gigantic” ancient sea monster, the Lorrainosaurus. This sea beast boasted jaws over four feet in length, and four flipper-like limbs powered its streamlined body. 

Lorrainosaurus belongs to a group of predators called pliosaurs and is closely related to the long-necked plesiosaurs. But unlike the adorable Loch Ness Monster, this fearsome marine reptile had a massive skull, giant teeth, and a bite force more powerful than that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. These dagger-toothed predators could grow almost 50 feet long, twice the size of an Orca. Nessie may crave the media spotlight, but Lorrainosaurus had an insatiable hunger for its fellow sea creatures…like Nessie. 

Despite covering most of the Earth’s surface, the oceans remain largely unexplored. New exploration methods are helping us uncover more of the ocean’s secrets, including unknown species like gigantic squid and tusked whales. Scientists estimate that between 700,000 and 1 million species reside in the sea, with one-third to two-thirds of marine life remaining undiscovered. 

Giant carnivorous eels and massive monsters just below the waves? Now, that could put the damper on your next ocean vacation.