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Paleontology: The eloquence of the otoliths
Date:5/16/2013

Cuvier Museum in Montbliard. The specimens were excavated from sediments that had been laid down in a shallow lagoon near the coast of the Tethys Sea, the precursor of the modern Mediterranean, towards the end of the Oligocene epoch, around 23 million years ago. Among the many unusual features of the find is the fact that the otoliths (also known as ear-stones), which are small calcified particles that form part of the balance organs in the inner ear of bony fish, are perfectly preserved. Reichenbacher, who specializes in the analysis of fossil otoliths, explains the significance of this: "Otoliths are made up of the mineral aragonite, together with a minor fraction of organic material. What makes them of such interest for us is that they can be read like a genetic code. Otoliths allow us to deduce what sort of fish they belonged to, even if nothing else has survived," she says. This is why the ear-stones play such a crucial role in studies of the paleontology, evolutionary history and biodiversity of the teleosts.

The otoliths revealed to the researchers that the fossils did not actually belong among the true gobies, but should be assigned to either the sleeper gobies or the butids. "Among the skeletal elements of the fossils, we then identified other traits that confirmed this assessment and enabled us to place the species among the butids," says doctoral student Christoph Gierl, who analyzed the structural anatomy of the skull and the dorsal and pelvic fins.

This is the first butid fossil to be found anywhere. Interestingly, no members of the Butidae are found in European waters today. The new findings show that, back in the Oligocene, butids were distributed in estuaries and lagoons around the Tethys and the Paratethys (the remnant sea to the northeast that was cut off from the rest of the Tethys Sea, today's Mediterranean, when the Alps were formed), which were then located in subtropical latitudes. The family vanished from these waters during
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Contact: Luise Dirscherl
dirscherl@lmu.de
49-892-180-2706
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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