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Undisciplined: Would You Like A Saber-Toothed Killer On That?

Joschua Knüppe

We’re talking about an ancient ancestor of modern anchovies, a fearsome fish that swam the seas about 55 million years ago — and, like so many other ancient creatures, it was a lot scarier back then than it is now.

Just about everyone knows that, about 65 million years ago, a very large asteroid struck our planet, sparking a massive die-off that killed a lot of animals on the surface of our planet, most notably the dinosaurs.

We tend not to think as much about what this event did to the animals in the ocean, but scientists generally agree that they were adversely affected too and, just as was the case on the land, many large predators were soon wiped out of existence.

And then, all sorts of strange and wonderful newly evolved and evolving animals came crashing into that void. And joining us today to talk about one of those animals — which has quickly become my favorite ancient fish — is Alessio Capobianco. His team’s recent paper, published in May in Royal Society Open Science, introduces the world to Monosmilus chureloides, the fearsome saber-toothed anchovy.

Matthew LaPlante has reported on ritual infanticide in Northern Africa, insurgent warfare in the Middle East, the legacy of genocide in Southeast Asia, and gang violence in Central America. But a few years back, something donned on him: Maybe the news doesn't have to be brutally depressing all the time. Today, he balances his continuing work on more heartbreaking subjects by writing books about the intersection of science, human health and society, including the New York Times best-selling Lifespan with geneticist David Sinclair and the Nautilus Award-winning Longevity Plan with cardiologist John Day. His first solo book, Superlative, looks at what scientists are learning by studying organisms that have evolved in record-setting ways, and his is currently at work on another book about embracing the inevitability of human-caused climate change with an optimistic outlook on the future.