Ancient ‘alien goldfish’ shot toothy ‘tongue’ out of its gut to catch prey

An artistic representation of the “alien goldfish” Typhloesus wellsi hunting prey. (Image credit: Drawing by Joschua Knüppe © Royal Ontario Museum.)

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Ancient creatures nicknamed “alien goldfish” had toothy, tongue-like structures in their guts that they fired out of their bodies to catch prey 330 million years ago, but they weren’t so different from some modern-day mollusks in that regard, a new study finds.

Toothed tongue-launcher Typhloesus wellsi was first described in 1973, and has been an evolutionary enigma in scientific circles for many decades. The freaky animal dates from 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 to extraterrestrials. Now, thanks to some exceptionally well-preserved fossils in Montana, researchers have found that these so-called aliens have a feeding mechanism resembling that of mollusks — a large group of soft-bodied invertebrates that includes snails, clams and octopuses.

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