Prehistoric Chomp-ion

UW professors say a prehistoric fish had the strongest bite ever seen.

Even during the holidays, it can sometimes feel as if you're swimming in shark-infested waters, what with constant reminders of the "fiscal cliff," a fatal shooting at a popular Bellevue bar, and the explosion of a Chinese fish tank that sent sharks everywhere.

But the sharks—well, OK, the piranhas—could be so much fiercer. Just take a look at a just-published paper by University of Washington doctoral student Stephanie Crofts and several other researchers. Published December 20 in the online journal Scientific Reports, the paper delves into the biting power of the mighty, prehistoric Megapiranha. Though weighing only 20 pounds or so, these fish had more powerful jaws than one of the biggest species that ever walked the planet, Tyrannosaurus rex, the authors conclude.

They reached their findings by extrapolating from measurements taken on the much smaller piranha of today. A UW press release explains: "Just how does one measure the bite force of a piranha living in the wild? Well, you get out your rod and reel and go fishing. Land a specimen, then hang tight to the tail with one hand and use your other hand to support its belly while offering the fish a chance to bite the plates of a customized force gauge."

One 2.5-pound piranha caught that way bit with a force of about 72 pounds. By comparison, the scientists reason, the piranhas that swum the waters of 10 million years ago bit with a force of up to 1,070 pounds.

What's more, the researchers go on, the Megapiranha had "dental weaponry" that was "capable of both slicing soft flesh and crushing hard prey." If only they were around today, we could stick them in Congress and end the fiscal-cliff debate right now.

What these ancient piranha actually did with their fearsome jaws remains a mystery, however. The paper's authors note that the era in which Megapiranha lived was known for its gigantic wildlife and plants. So whatever prey these creatures set their sights on was bound to be big.

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