Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mesomyzon mengae, New Early Cretaceous Lamprey

A lamprey from the Cretaceous Jehol biota of China. 2006. M.-m. Chang et al. Nature 441: 972-974

Abstract: Widespread nowadays in freshwater and coastal seas of the cold and temporal zones, lampreys are a jawless vertebrate group that has been in existence for more than 300 million years but left a meagre fossil record. Only two fossil, lamprey species, Mayomyzon pieckoensis and Hardistiella montanensis, have been recognized with certainty from North American Carboniferous marine deposits.

We report a freshwater lamprey from the Early Cretaceous epoch (about 125 million years ago) of Inner Mongolia, China. The new taxon, Mesomyzon mengae, has a long snout, a well-developed sucking oral disk, a relatively long branchial apparatus showing branchial basket, seven gill pouches, gill arches and impressions of gill filaments, about 80 myomeres and several other characters that are previously unknown or ambiguous.

Our finding not only indicates Mesomyzon's closer relationship to extant lampreys but also reveals the group's invasion into a freshwater environment no later than the Early Cretaceous. The new material furthers our understanding of ancient lampreys, bridges the gap between the Carboniferous ones and their recent relatives, and adds to our knowledge of the evolutionary history of lampreys.