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Temporal range: 409-284 Ma
Early Devonian to Early Permian
Acanthodes BW.jpg
Acanthodes bronni from the Early Permian of Germany
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: +Acanthodii
Order: +Acanthodiformes
Family: +Acanthodidae
Genus: +Acanthodes
  • +A. bridgei
  • +A. bronni
  • +A.gracilis
  • +A. guizhouensis
Fossil of Acanthodes. Exhibit in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan.

Acanthodes (meaning spiny base or thorny base) is an extinct genus of spiny shark.[1] Fossils have been found in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. Acanthodes was most common in the Carboniferous and Early Permian. A few putative species ("Acanthoides dublinensis", Acanthodes guizhouensis)[2] have been reported from Devonian strata, but their referral to the genus may not be valid.[3]


Compared with other spiny sharks, Acanthodes was relatively large, at 30 centimetres (12 in) long. The genus had no teeth,[4] instead gills. Because of this, it is presumed to have been a filter feeder, filtering plankton from the water.[5] The Acanthodes has been found to have only a couple of skull bones. It was covered in scales that were cubical in shape.

It also had fewer spines than many of its relatives. Each of the paired pectoral and pelvic fins had a spine, as did the single anal and dorsal fins, giving it a total of just six, less than half that of many other species.[5] A fossil discovered near Hamilton, Kansas in the Upper Carboniferous Hamilton Formation, and published in 2014 as Acanthodes bridgei was so well-preserved that traces of its eye tissue were sufficient to establish that Acanthodes had both rod and cone photoreceptor cells, and thus profited from color vision.[6]


Several specimens of Acanthodes were recovered from an abandoned quarry (Hamilton Quarry) which contained individuals ranging in total length from 54 nm to 410 nm. A. bridgei was one of the species found there. A. bridgei has large orbits, a shorter pre-pectoral region, and shallower insertions of the fin spines.[7]


The scientific classification of acanthodians is still a subject of great dispute, due to the fact that they share qualities of both bony fish (osteichthyes) and cartilaginous fish (chondrichthyes). A recent study has suggested that Acanthodes may have been, or closely related to an early common ancestor to all cartilaginous and bony fish, including humans.[8][9] Acanthodian internal anatomy is primarily understood by Acanthodes bronni because it remains the only example preserved in substantial detail, central to which is an ostensible osteichthyan braincase. For this reason, Acanthodes has become an indispensable component in early gnathostome phylogenies.[10] Acanthodes is quantifiably closer to chondrichthyans than to osteichthyans. However, phylogenetic analysis places Acanthodes on the osteichthyan stem, as part of a well-resolved tree that also recovers acanthodians as stem chondrichthyans and stem gnathostomes. As such, perceived chondrichthyan features of the Acanthodes cranium represent shared primitive conditions for crown group gnathostomes. There has been increasingly detailed findings of early gnathostome evolution highlights ongoing and profound anatomical reorganization of vertebrate crania after the origin of jaws but before the divergence of living clades.[10]

As mentioned earlier, A. bronni is an acanthodian, a group of stem gnathostomes more derived than placoderms, but fairly close to the origins of chondrichthyans and osteichthyans. A. bronni lived about 290 million years ago during the Carboniferous period.[10] Researchers took 138 characteristics of various skulls of A. bronni and compared these with skulls of both chondrichthyans and osteichthyans, and determined that acanthodians are closer to cartilaginous fishes.[10]


  1. ^ Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh (1880). "Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh". V: 115. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Lelièvre, Hervé; Derycke, Claire (1998-12-01). "Microremains of vertebrate near the devonian-carboniferous boundary of Southern China (Hunan province) and their biostratigraphical significance". Revue de Micropaléontologie. 41 (4): 297-320. doi:10.1016/S0035-1598(98)90205-7. ISSN 0035-1598.
  3. ^ Storrs, Glenn W. (1987). "An ichthyofauna from the subsurface Devonian of northwestern Iowa and its biostratigraphic and paleoecologic significance". Journal of Paleontology. 61 (2): 363-374. doi:10.1017/S0022336000028523.
  4. ^ Nicholson, Henry Alleyne; Richard Lydekker (1889). A Manual of Palaeontology. Blackwood. p. 966. Acanthodes pectoral fins.
  5. ^ a b Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. pp. 30-31. ISBN 978-1-84028-152-1.
  6. ^ NewsScienceMag, "Three hundred million year old fossil fish still has traces of eye tissue", 23 December 2014: accessed 23 December 2014.
  7. ^ Zidek, Jiri (1976). "Kansas Hamilton Quarry (Upper Pennsylvanian) Acanthodes, with remarks on the previously reported North American occurrences of the genus". The University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions (83).
  8. ^ Article on Acanthodes as ancestor of Man,, accessed 15 June 2012
  9. ^ Journal article on Acanthodes,, accessed 15 June 2012
  10. ^ a b c d Davis, S; Finarelli, J; Coates, M (2012). "Acanthodes and shark-like conditions in the last common ancestor of modern gnathostomes". Nature. 486 (7402): 247-250. Bibcode:2012Natur.486..247D. doi:10.1038/nature11080. PMID 22699617.
  • Parker, Steve. Dinosaurus: the complete guide to dinosaurs. Firefly Books Inc, 2003. Pg. 60

External links

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