Meet the ‘Chunkle-osteus’ — Part Fearsome Shark, Part Chunky Tuna

Okay, its name isn’t actually Chunkle-osteus.

While this ancient and fierce ocean predator, officially named Dunkleosteus, has long fascinated paleontologists for its huge size and massive chompers, new research paints a slightly different picture.

It wasn’t actually that big and didn’t have a sleek shark body. According to paleontologist Russell Engelman of Case Western Reserve University, the Dunkleosteus looked more like a tuna with an eating problem.

There’s still no doubt that the fish dominated the ocean during the Devonian period more than 360 million years ago. Its teeth were big enough to bite a shark in half. But the revised vision of its form, published in the journal Diversity last month, immediately drew not-so-subtle jokes about its appearance.

Rounder…and scarier?

The prehistoric fish was likely closer in size to a Volkswagen Beetle than a school bus, as researchers previously believed.

That’s the estimate from Engelman, anyway. He compared the head-to-body proportions of about 1,000 other species of fish, both fossilized and still living, from smallmouth bass to big sharks. He concluded that the average Dunkleosteus head, measuring about a half meter, would suggest a fish slightly longer than 3.3 meters.


Revised size estimates make ‘The Dunk’ smaller than a modern Great White Shark. Image: Russell Engelman


They could possibly max out at about four meters. That’s still large enough to make short work of an unsuspecting human — especially one making jokes about its appearance. But it’s still not quite the size of a modern Great White Shark.

However, the new form actually made it more fierce in the ancient oceans — not less, Engelman said.

“People say it’s pudge, but that’s probably just solid muscle,” Engelman told The New York Times. “People think this is a downgrade, but this is actually an upgrade.”

However, other paleontologists know that estimates like Engelman’s can always be overturned by new discoveries. It’s rare to find fossilized bodies of cartilage-dominant animals like sharks and fish, but not impossible.

With more fossils of the body, the Dunkleosteus could once again receive a fishy makeover.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love a chunky ‘Dunk,’” said Caitlin Colleary, a paleontologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, in The New York Times story. “But I’m not going to get too attached because in science, especially paleontology, it just takes one new discovery to change everything.”

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.