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Snaggletooth Shark Facts and Information (hemipristis serra) - Identification, Fossil Examples, Fossil Hunting Locations, and more!

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Fossil Snaggletooth Shark tooth found at Calvert Cliffs - Hemipristis serra

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

Fast Facts about the Snaggletooth Sharks

Snaggletooth shark image: Hemipristis elongata shark from CSIRO National Fish Collection

Image of the living Snaggletooth shark (H. elongata). From CSIRO National Fish Collection (CC3 license).

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.

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

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

Fossil Snaggletooth Shark tooth found at the Calvert Cliffs Fossil Shark Tooth Hunting at the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland - Chesapeake Bay
Snaggletooth - hemipristis - shark information Fossil hunting for Snaggletooth shark teeth in North Carolina

Images of Fossil Snaggletooth Shark Teeth

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

First Appearance
The Hemipristis genus first appeared 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. 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.

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

This image shows the various tooth positions in the Snaggletooths jaw. Notice the teeth look very different depending on the position.

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.

identification of a fossil snaggletooth shark tooth
fossil shark teeth identification - hemipristis
fossil shark teeth identification - snaggletooth

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 shark jaw of a hemipristis serra

Reconstructed composite Snaggletooth 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.

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.

Fossil Snaggletooth Shark Teeth with Bite Pathologies

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.

Hemipristis serra shark teeth with bite damage

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

Fossil Examples and Locations of 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, Florida, the mine tailings at the museum in Aurora, North Carolina, and the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland:

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.

Snaggletooth shark teeth from Calvert Cliffs of Maryland

These are various snaggletooth teeth from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay.
The center lower is a labial view, the rest are lingual views. The lowers rolled part way onto their sides, making profile views.

Formation:Calvert & Choptank    Age:Miocene ~ 18-15 m.y.    Location:From various places, Calvert Co., MD
    Size:Largest is 1 1/2" (38mm)   

Snaggletooth shark teeth from Calvert Cliffs of Maryland

These are various snaggletooth teeth from the Calvert Cliffs of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay.
These are all labial views. The labial side faces the outside of the mouth. This is to show the size and shape variation in the snaggletooth teeth.
The smaller ones are abundant. Larger ones are slightly more difficult to find.

Formation:Calvert and Choptank    Age:Miocene ~ 18-15 m.y.    Location:From various places, Calvert Co., MD
    Size:Largest is 1 3/8" (35mm)   

Pathological Hemispristis Shark Tooth

Here is a neat pathological Hemipristis shark tooth. It has a curved blade and a double tip. These are difficult to find.

Formation:Calvert    Age:Miocene ~ 18-15 m.y.    Location:Chesapeake Bay Area
    Size:~1" (25 mm)    Date:November 2006 TRIP

Hemipristis serra (Agassiz, 1843) - North Carolina
Hemispristis Shark Teeth from North Carolina

Uppers and lowers are generally easy to distinguish form one another.

The lower rightmost tooth is a symphysial tooth.
Although these teeth can be found in both the Pungo River and Yorktown formations, the teeth found in the Yorktown are generally larger in size.

Formation:Pungo River and/or Yorktown    Age:Roughly 2.5-5 or 18-22 m.y.    Location:Aurora, NC
    Size:largest one is ~1 9/16" (40 mm)   

First Associated Skeleton of a Snaggletooth Shark from the Calvert Cliffs
Hemipristis serra associated skeleton - Image by Dr. Steven Godfrey

Image from Dr. Steven Godfrey (of the CMM) showing the jaws of the articulated snaggletooth shark.

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 a complete 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 and is now on display at the Calvert Marine Museum.

Recommended Books about Sharks:

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 , A Collector's Guide
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.