KGS Navigation Bar, Search, Contact, KGS Home, UK Home University of Kentucky at Kentucky Geological Survey at Search KGS at contact kgs at KGS Home at UK Home at KGS Home

KGS Home > Fossils > Vertebrate Fossils
Pisces (Fish)

Fish fossils have been found in the Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, and Tertiary rocks in Kentucky.  Fossils from the following classes have been found in Kentucky:


Arthrodires (Placodermi)

Arthrodires were a type of armored fish that grew to more than 20 feet in length. They had thick bony armour plating around their head. Rather than teeth, many had sharp, pointed extensions of their lower jaw.

Devonian bone fragments

Fossil evidence shows that they fed on sharks and other fish. They were the largest predators of the Devonian.

Arthrodire chasing smaller fish in the Devonian seas of Kentucky. Art copyrighted 1995 by Stephen Greb

Arthrodires had bony armor around their heads that can be preserved as fossils. The rest of these fish was composed of cartilage, muscle and other soft parts so was generally not fossilized.

Only one near-complete arthrodire is known from Kentucky. It was found in the Devonian-age New Albany Shale Formation. More commonly, fossils are found of individual bony plates of the arthrodires as shown below. These fossils sometimes occur in bone layers within the shale, consisting of the scattered remains of numerous arthrodires. Each of the bones has a shiny exterior, and preserves the spongy texture of the original bone in the interior. This is how they can be interpreted as bones. Also, some of the bone plates exhibit a bumpy (ornamented) texture that is typical of arthrodire bones. The jaw fragment is typical of arthrodire lower jaws and shows the solid construction of this fish's powerful mouth!

Links to more information about arthrodires:


Sharks and shark-like fish (Chondrichthyes)

Teeth, fin spines, and tooth-like scales of sharks (cartilaginous fish) are numerous in some Mississippian and Pennsylvanian rocks in Kentucky. Sharks of the past, as in the present, had skeletons made from cartilage. Cartilage does not easily fossilize. Hence, the fossils left behind by sharks are generally limited to teeth, large fin spines, and tooth-like scales.

1. Mississippian cladodontid shark tooth.

2. Hard fin spines and teeth

3. Fin spine from a Mississippian shark from Kentucky.

Some shark-like fish, called holocephalians (or chimaerids), had flat teeth for crushing shells, whereas others, like the tooth in Figure 1 above, had more typical sharp teeth for capturing swimming prey (made for puncturing and holding fish and cephalopods?). The elongate fossil (3) is a fossil fin spine from a shark. Although some species of sharks have fin spines today, they are not common. Sharks with fin spines were common in Devonian, Mississippian and Pennsylvanian sharks of Kentucky.

Many types of sharks lived in Kentucky at that time and some had teeth for capturing swimming animals and others had teeth especially adapted for crushing and eating shellfish such as brachiopods, clams, crinoids, and squid-like animals (cephalopods). One cephalopod fossil that had puncture marks of a shark that had bitten it was found in the Pennsylvanian rocks of the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field. Some Pennsylvanian sharks lived in fresh water and had forked teeth that were designed to catch other fish and swimming animals.

Mississippian-age shark fossils

Shell-crushing, oval-shaped teeth (These belonged to shark-related fish called holocephalians.)
Three views of Petalodus sp. shell-crushing shark tooth.
Front and back view of Petalodus sp. shark tooth.
Front and back view of Petalodus sp. shark tooth.
Deltodus sp. shell-crushing shark tooth.
Detail of Deltodus sp. shark teeth.
Polyrhizodus (?) sp. shell-crushing shark teeth.

Pointed teeth

Cladodont-type tooth.

Shark fin spines

Ctenacanthus dorsal spine, Hardin County.
Detail of Ctenacanthus dorsal spine, Hardin County

Pennsylvanian-age shark fossils

Edestus fossil "jaw," Henderson County.
Detail of Edestus teeth, Henderson County.
Edestus fossil "jaw," Muhlenberg County.
Detail of teeth in Edestus fossil shown above.
Impression of Edestus fossil jaw shown above.
Detail of Edestus fossil jaw impression.
Ctenacanthid shark spine fragment, Greenup County.


These links will take you to a different website. Bookmark the KGS website or use the back button on your Internet server to return to the KGS site.

Bony Fishes (Osteichthyes)

Most modern fish belong to the bony fish or osteichthyes group. Several types of bony fish fossils have been found in Kentucky.

The ray-finned palaeoniscid fish (outlined by white dashes) above was found in a coal mine from the Western Kentucky Coal Field. The fossil consists of an imprint of scales in a dark shale. The fossil is very subtle, and only when light is shining at the right angle are the scales well illuminated. Such fossils are easily overlooked. Isolated fossil-fish scales and teeth are abundant in several Devonian, Mississippian and Pennsylvanian strata. A 1-inch-long scale of a Rhizodopsis fish that was up to eight feet long was found in the Pennsylvanian rocks of the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field. Several large rhizodont fish skeletons have been found in the Mississippian strata in western Kentucky.