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FOUND AT NEW SCIENTIST
ANCIENT flying fish could make waves in our picture of prehistoric oceans. Fossils recently found in southern China suggest that these winged wonders evolved millions of years earlier than previously thought.
Marine predators often try to trap their prey against the ocean’s surface. Flying fish have a clever escape strategy: they can leap out of the water altogether, and so elude some of the biggest hunters.
Now Guang-Hui Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and his team have found fossils of a new flying fish species from the Middle Triassic period, which began 247 million years ago (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2261). Previously the oldest flying fish fossils were from the Late Triassic, which began around 230 million years ago, and were unearthed in Austria and Italy.
Modern flying fish have either two or four “wings” – rigid fins that let them glide – which afford them different talents for dodging predators. The Chinese fossils are four-winged, suggesting these fish evolved to make long-distance glides and sophisticated mid-air manoeuvres. This might give clues to what type of ancient predators, such as marine reptiles, they were facing.