until recently, Orthacanthus gracilisCould have been considered the “John Smith” of prehistoric shark names, given how common it was.

At the end of the Paleozoic Era — about 310 million years ago — three different species of shark were mistakenly given the same name, much to the chagrin of biologists who have studied and written about sharks for years. And they had difficulty keeping them apart.

But now Lorraine Babcock, a professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, has completed the difficult task of renaming two of the three sharks — and in the process, rediscovered a treasure trove of fossil fish that is now on display at an Ohio State museum. was stored. years but were largely forgotten.

To change names, Babcock had to go through a process governed by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). It had to document the need to change names, propose new names and submit them to an ICZN-accredited journal for peer review, and then ICZN formally accept the names.

“This was one of the most complex naming problems we face in paleontology, which is probably one reason why no one has tried to fix it until now,” Babcock said.

“Many scientists in the field have written, thank you for doing this,” he said. We are all happy that it is finally done.

A measure of the impact of name changes on the field: Babcock’s paper announcing the new names had just been published in the journal. Zuckies on January 8, but it has already been referenced on seven different Wikipedia pages.

Original Orthacanthus gracilis The fossil was found in Germany and placed in 1848.

The remaining two fossils were found in Ohio and named by the famous American paleontologist John Strong Newberry in 1857 and 1875.

Babcock renamed the Ohio Sharks. Orthacanthus lintonensis And Orthacanthus adamasboth based on the name of the place where they were originally found.

Why did Newberry give two Ohio sharks the same name?

“He probably forgot. There was about 20 years between naming the two species,” Babcock said.

And as for naming it a German species: “In those days, it was really hard to find names that already existed — they didn’t have the Internet.”

Sharks themselves were fascinating creatures, Babcock said. They were large and fearsome, about 10 feet long, and looked more like eels than modern-day sharks, with long dorsal fins extending the length of their backs and a strange spine behind their heads. The side was spread.

They lived in fresh or brackish water known as “coal swamps” during the Paleozoic Era at the end of the Late Carboniferous Period (323-299 million years ago). They belong to an extinct group of chondrichthyans (which includes sharks, skates and rays) called xenacanthiforms.

Newberry was for a time chief geologist at the Geological Survey of Ohio. He was instrumental in the early development of what is now the Orton Geological Museum at Ohio State.

Babcock, the current director of the Orton Museum, decided to begin the renaming process after reviewing the museum’s collection. He was surprised to see how many fossils Newberry had collected in the museum, including two prehistoric sharks.

Babcock wrote about Orton’s Newbery collection in a new article published in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Over the years, scientists have written about how various Newberry artifacts were lost. It turns out that many people were at the Orton Museum.

“No museum other than the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has a large collection of Newberry fossils,” Babcock said.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of it — I didn’t even know the extent of our collection. If you’re looking for part of the Newberry collection and can’t find it at the American Museum of Natural History, It’s probably going to be here.”