Ancient ‘alien goldfish’ shot a tooth ‘tongue’ from its gut to catch prey

An Artistic Rendering of the “Alien Goldfish” Typhloesus wellsia hunting prey. Credit: Drawing by Joschua Knüppe © Royal Ontario Museum.

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Ancient creatures nicknamed “alien goldfish” had tooth-like, tongue-like structures in their guts that they shot out of their bodies 330 million years ago to capture prey, but in that respect they weren’t all that different from some modern mollusks, a new study finds.

Serrated Tongue Launcher Typhloesus wellsia was first described in 1973 and has been an evolutionary enigma in scientific circles for decades. The freaky animal dates back to the Carboniferous period (358.9 million to 298.9 million years ago). But fossils of the vaguely fish-like animals were so different from other Carboniferous animals that scientists joked they belonged aliens. Thanks to some exceptionally well-preserved fossils in Montana, researchers have discovered that these so-called aliens have a feeding mechanism similar to that of mollusks — a large group of soft-bodied invertebrates, including snails, clams and octopuses.