In the depths of Wando River in South Carolina, a skull fossil of a new dolphin species with a peculiar way of eating was found.
Named Inermorostrum xenops, the dolphin is thought be about five feet long and weighs up to 120 pounds. How is it different from all the other fossils before and species today?
For one, the 30-million-years-old skull fossil shows that it had a short snout and was toothless. It has holes in its bones that could be due to its enlarged lips or whiskers. This indicates that while dolphins typically eat by tearing and grasping the prey with their teeth before swallowing it whole, this ancient species just suck up their prey and slurp it! Why? Well, they don't have any other choice; they don't have teeth for Poseidon's sake!
“It was totally, unilaterally adapted toward that feeding mode,” says paper's author Robert Boessenecker, a paleontologist at the College of Charleston.
This method is known as suction feeding. And these ancient sea dwellers are the earliest example of a suction-feeding specialist. But this isn't very common to the modern dolphins anymore due to previous evolutionary divergence.
Back to the time when this species were alive, snout shapes and tooth presence of the dolphins were becoming more and more diverse; until such time that these creatures settle into the optimum design a.k.a. bottlenose dolphins' snout.
Moreover, researchers suggested that the species could've lived in shallow water as its ability to dive deep is compromised by its small dimensions. “We suspect that this animal probably hung out very close to shore because of its size,” he says.
It's fascinating how every species of animals tend to maximize whatever they have and ironically use any seemingly physical disadvantages to their advantage. Short snout? No teeth? No problem! Just slurp it!
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