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Snaggletooth Facts

Snaggletooth fossil shark tooth as found in North Carolina


Fast Facts about the Snaggletooth Shark


Name: Hemipristis - Hemi is Greek for "half" and pristis is Greek for "saw". The name "Half Saw" refers to their odd and jagged teeth.
The Common name is the "Snaggletooth Shark"



Taxonomy: Snaggletooth sharks are in the Weasel Shark family.
Order: Carcharhiniformes Family: Hemigaleidae (Weasel) Genus: Hemipristis Species: elongata

Age: Eocene to Recent

Distribution: Global
These seldom seen sharks are only found in warm coastal waters of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, including the Red Sea.
They are not found in the western hemisphere.

Physical Appearance:
The Snaggletooth sharks are light grey and slender sharks with a long snout. They also have very long gill slits and fins that are strongly curved. Body Size:
Snaggletooth sharks can grow up to nearly 8 feet in length.

Teeth:
They have very odd teeth. They are large and curved with very jagged serrations along the edges.

Diet:
Bony fish, other sharks, and crustaceans

Conservation Status:
Snaggletooth sharks are listed as volnerable to extinction by the IUCN. Their numbers have been declining due to overfishing.

Fun Fact:
Male Snaggletooth sharks are twice the size as females.





Snaggletooth Shark Facts and Information - The Details


Snaggletooth Shark (Hemipristis serra) shark teeth found at the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland


The Snaggletooth shark, Hemipristis, is a shark that few people hear about. They use to be very common millions of years ago, but today are restricted to the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. They are known for their odd snaggle-shaped teeth.

First Appearance
The Hemipristis genus first appears in the Eocene as H. curvatus. Their teeth are similar in shape to H. serra but are smaller. This genus is the direct ancestor of H. serra, and it disappeared in the Oligocene as the first occurrence of Hemipristis serra appeared.

Occurence of the Prehistoric Snaggletooth
H. serra can be found in Tertiary fossil deposits on the east coast from Maryland to Florida. These beautiful teeth are also a common find in Tertiary deposits worldwide, from both coasts of North and South America to Europe, Africa, and Australia. This shark clearly had a nearly global distribution in the Tertiary. However as the climate changed, from the warmer Miocene into the cooler climate of today, this species became extinct. They are deemed abundant in Miocene exposures. In Pliocene exposures, they are less numerous, and in the Pleistocene, they became restricted to the tropical waters around Indonesia before finally becoming extinct (Kent, p. 79).

The Living Snaggletooth - Size, Behavior, Distribution, Diet
H. Serras' closest living relative is H. elongata, a slightly smaller snaggletooth which continues to swim in the tropical waters of the Eastern Hemisphere today.

According to Bonfil, H. elongata is an inshore and offshore shark with a distribution in the Indian Ocean, western Pacific, from South Africa to China and Australia, including the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (Bonfil p.15).

Sharks from the Hemigaleidae family (weasel sharks) have a long snout, with horizontally oval eyes, and internal gill openings, and their first dorsal fin is slightly higher than their second dorsal fin (Compagno, p. 28). They also have a plain color pattern, except for light or dark fin edges or tips on some species (Compagno, p. 28).

Hemipristis elongata primarily feed on small bony fish, sharks, and rays. They can reach lengths of up to 2.4 m (7.9 ft) (Bonfil p. 15). Based on tooth size comparisons between H. elongata and H. serra, the fossil species could reach sizes between 3 to 5 m (10 - 16 ft) (Compagno, p. 486). Therefore, H. serra was most likely a larger version of H. elongata, it most likely would have looked and behaved similarly.

H. elongata is listed as vonurable to extinction by the UICN. Their numbers are declining, mainly from overfishing from gill net and trawl fisheries.



First Articulated Skeleton of a Snaggletooth Shark from the Calvert Cliffs


Image from Dr. Steven Godfrey (of the CMM) showing the jaws of the articulated snaggletooth shark before it was excavated from the Calvert formation.


In October of 2014, Donald Dixon discovered a series of shark vertebrae and teeth while digging a footer for an addition to a house in Calvert County. His brother, an amateur fossil hunter who realized the significance of this find, contacted Dr. Steven Godfrey from the Calvert Marine Museum. Dr. Godfrey quickly conducted an excavation of the specimen.

It turned out to be an associated Hemipristis serra fossil shark, the first complete specimen of its kind! The articulated fossil has over 80 vertebrae, jaws and teeth, and even cartileage from the skull. The specimen would have been around 8 to 10 feet in length.

The specimen has been prepped, was briefly on display at the Cavlert Marine Museum, and is now unfortunately in a private collection.


The worlds only Hemipristis serra associated specimen awaiting to be prepped at the Calvert Marine Museum. Image courtesy of Paul R. Murdoch Jr. of Chesapeake Heritage And Paleontology Tours.
The left side of the jacket contains the cartilage from the skull and jaws, and upper and lower rows of teeth. The right side of the specimen contains a row of vertebra and a few additional teeth.



This is the prepped jacket of the main part of the hemipristis fossil specimen. It was prepped at the Calvert Marine Museum. One can see the jaws with teeth and cartilage on the left and the partial vertebral column on the right. Image by John Nance of the CMM.




Snaggletooth Fossil Shark Teeth Design / Information


Fossil Snaggletooth Shark Teeth - Showing the range of shapes of the shark teeth


One obvious aspect of Hemipristis serra shark teeth are their unique design. They are easily identifiable from any other tooth. The upper laterals are broad and triangular shaped. The fossil shark teeth unmistakable large, course serrations running nearly the length of the blade. The distal serrations tend to be larger than the mesial serrations. Serrations on both sides of the tooth end just before the coronal apex, which is smooth. Upper anterior teeth are narrower than upper laterals. The serrations also run nearly the length of the blade, and end with a smooth coronal apex. They also have a lingual protuberance on the root.

Lower Hemipristis serra shark teeth resemble a different species. They are very similar to sand tiger teeth. In fact, some early literature reports them as different species (Cocke, p. 56). The key to identifying lowers is they have incomplete cutting edges toward the base of the crown. They also have a pronounced lingual protuberance. Lower anterior teeth only have a small number of serrations on each shoulder, while lower lateral teeth are more serrated, superficially resembling the serrations on upper anterior teeth.

Symphysial teeth look quite different. They are very thin, have a large lingual protuberance, and have 1 or 2 serrations on their shoulders. Upper, lower, and symphyseal teeth are shown in the shark tooth identification images below







The Snaggletooth Shark Dentition


The following image is a composite fossil shark dentition (jaw) from isolated fossil shark teeth I found along the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland. It was reconstructed using an illustration of the extant snaggletooth dentition in Kent's book "Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region" and also from viewing the dentition in the Aurora Fossil Museum. There are still a few missing teeth in the dentition.


Reconstructed composite Snaggletooth (Hemipristis serra) shark jaw from isolated teeth found at the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.


The following image shows a modern Snaggletooth Shark Jaw (Hemipristis elongata). It looks very similar to Hemipristis serra. The teeth are not as broad as in H. serra.

Modern Snaggletooth shark jaw - Hemipristis elongata



Bite / Feeding Pathologies on Fossil Hemipristis Shark Teeth


Out of 206 sampled fossil shark teeth, 8 Hemipristis teeth showed signs of feeding and/or bite damage. This translates to roughly 3.8% of Hemipristis teeth. So, chances are most shark tooth collectors have these type of tooth pathologies in their collections.

Most of these damaged teeth have the mesial cutting edges completely sheared off. This type of feeding damage is very easy to recognize. The following image shows six teeth with this specific damage.
A probable reason for this specific damage is when the wide tooth bites into bone, the biting force can easily shear the fragile serrations off.


This image shows feeding damage to six upper hemipristis shark teeth. This type of feeding damage is easily recognizable.



Feeding damage from lower Hemipristis teeth can be seen in the image below. Similar to the upper teeth, the blade is sheared off. Notice the smoothness of the shear on the unworn teeth, unlike a tooth that breaks after fossilization.

Also shown is an upper shark tooth with bite marks in it. This fossil tooth probably fell out of the sharks mouth and got punctured by a few lower teeth before falling from the shark.


This image shows an upper tooth with puncture marks from the lower teeth, and two lower teeth that have been sheared off.



Finally, the following image shows an upper tooth with bite marks in it. Again, this tooth probably fell out of the sharks mouth and got punctured by a few lower teeth before falling from the shark.


Hemipristis serra shark tooth with puncture marks.




Fossil Hunting Locations for Hemipristis Shark Teeth


Hemipristis fossils are found world wide in marine Tertiary deposits. In the United States, the fossil teeth and sometimes vertebra are found from California on the Pacific to Florida, northwards to New Jersey on the Atlantic.

Notable places to find Snaggletooth fossils include Venice Beach in Florida, the Peace River of Florida, the mine tailings at the museum in Aurora, North Carolina, and the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland.






Fossil Examples


Hemipristis serra (Agassiz, 1843) - Maryland
This species lived from the late Oligocene into the early Pleistocene. They are commonly called Snaggeltooth Sharks due to the large serrations on their teeth. Species of Hemipristis are extant today, however, they are only found in tropical waters, and are much smaller than the fossil species. The fossil species are also found worldwide.


These are various snaggletooth teeth from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay.


These are additional snaggletooth teeth from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay.


This is a Pathological Snaggletooth lower tooth from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. It has a curved blade and a double tip. These are difficult to find.



Recommended Books about Sharks and Fossils



Sharks of the World (Princeton Field Guides)
By: Leonard Compagno, 2005

Leonard Compagno is very thorough, so this is a VERY COMPLETE guide to sharks. This is the best shark guide I have found thus far. He catalogued all sharks from the FAO Species Catalog. There is a key to shark families, and color plates of sharks. Each individual shark has a description, drawing, examples of upper and lower teeth, distribution, size, behavior, etc...
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about the incredible diversity of sharks!




Sharks and People: Exploring Our Relationship with the Most Feared Fish in the Sea
By: Thomas P. Peschak, 2013
Sharks and People is written by Peschak, an acclaimed wildlife photographer, who has spent many years photographing sharks. As a result, this book is a work of art. It contains many stunning images of sharks. The book does a wonderful job at examining the conservation issues and the complex relationship between sharks and people from a number of perspectives. It will change how you think about sharks.




Fossil Shark Teeth of the World
by Joe Cocke, Copyright 2002

A great book for identifying all those fossil shark teeth. This book is laid out "as simple as possible." It's ease of use and small size makes it great to carry during collecting trips. This book shows teeth from around the globe, but all the Calvert teeth can be found in it.




High Quality Shark Teeth by Fossilera




References / Works Cited

Castro, Jose L. (1996). Sharks of North American Waters. College Station: Texas AandM University Press.

Hamlett, William C, ed. (1999). Sharks, skates, and rays : the biology of elasmobranch fishes. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press.

Michael, Scott W. (1993). Reef sharks and rays of the world : a guide to their identification, behavior, and ecology. Monterey, CA.: Sea Challengers.

Purdy, R., Schneider, V., Appelgate, S., McLellan, J., Meyer, R. & Slaughter, R. (2001). The Neogene Sharks, Rays, and Bony Fishes from Lee Creek Mine, Aurora, North Carolina. In: Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III. C. E. Ray & D. J. Bohaska eds. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, No 90. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. pp. 71-202.



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