According to new research published Thursday, scientists have discovered a new species of ancient winged shark, which fed on plankton eons before the emergence of giant manta rays. The species, Aquilolamna milarcae which lived around 93 million years ago was discovered in the northeast of Mexico. The specimen in question measured around 1.65 metres (5.4 feet) in length and has a fin span of 1.9 metres (6.3 feet). Like modern day rays, the species, nicknamed eagle shark had extremely long pectoral fins reminiscent of wings.
Authors of the study, published in the journal Science, said that the bizarre creature probably swam very slowly and was unlikely to have been able to hunt for food.
Roman Vullo, lead study author from France's National Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Rennes said, you could make the analogy of a glider... it wasn't at all adapted to swimming fast and following prey.
Vullo said, coupled with a large head and no teeth found on the skeleton suggesting they were very small or missing entirely, it was more a plankton eater than predator.
Until the discovery, scientists had only known of one category of large plankton feeders in the Cretaceous period, a group of large bony fish known as pachycormidae. The eagle shark is now the second known plankton-eating fish discovered from the last epoch when dinosaurs still stalked the Earth. Pachycormidae died out in the extinction event following the Chicxulub meteor strike 66 million years ago.
Vullo said, eagle sharks were little by little replaced by manta rays and devil rays, which developed at the beginning of the Tertiary period after the extinction.
The specimen in the study was found in 2012 in the Mexican region of Vallecillo, which is renowned for its well preserved fossils.