Living during the Late Devonian, about 375-359 million years ago, in subtropical waters covering parts of what are now North America and Europe, this species is known mostly just from the bony plates that covered its head and thorax. The rest of its skeleton was cartilaginous and rarely ever fossilized (only a few vertebrae and the pectoral fin are currently known), so its full body shape and size is poorly understood, and previous length estimates have ranged all the way up to 10m (33′).
…Except it turns out it wasn’t nearly that big.
Based on its head proportions, along with comparisons to more complete remains of other arthrodire placoderms, recent studies instead come up with a maximum length of about 4m (~13ft) – giving Dunkleosteus a much shorter-but-heavier chunky body shape, more like a tuna than a shark.
Preserved stomach contents in one fossil show remains of the fast-swimming cartilaginous fish Orodus – suggesting that much like the modern tuna it resembled, Dunkleosteus was also capable of bursts of high speed.
Ellimmichthyiformes were a group of ray-finned fish known from the early Cretaceous to the mid-Oligocene, about 140-30 million years ago. For much of that time they were quite widespread, found in various marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments across Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas.
Closely related to modern clupeiformes (herrings, sardines, and anchovies), and characterized by two rows of bony scutes – one in front of the dorsal fin and the other along the belly – they’re also known by the nickname “double‐armored herrings”.
Rhombichthys intoccabilis was a rather unusual-looking ellimmichthyiform from the mid-Cretaceous, around 95 million years ago. Living in shallow reef and lagoon waters covering what is now the West Bank in the Middle East, it was about 20cm long (~8″) and had a tall narrow dorsal fin along with incredibly elongated belly scutes that gave its body a rhombus-like profile.
Juveniles of this species seem to have lacked the extended belly scutes, instead having a much more rounded body shape. This may indicate that adults and juveniles occupied very different ecological roles, or that the distinctive scutes might have been a secondary sexual characteristic involved in displaying for courtship and reproduction.
Up to around 2.5m long (~8′), it’s known from several exceptionally well-preserved and near-complete skeletons.
It had a streamlined body with large pectoral fins, small pelvic fins, and a strongly keeled crescent-shaped tail fin. And although it was superficially shark-like in appearance, it was actually part of a lineage known as cladoselachids, which were much closer related to modern chimaeras than to sharks.
It’s unclear if Maghriboselache had two dorsal fins like its close relative Cladoselache, but some specimens preserve evidence of a chunky spine where the front dorsal fin would have been. Others show no sign of a front dorsal fin or spine at all, suggesting there may have been some sexual dimorphism going on in this species, with males having a spine (and possibly also an associated front dorsal fin) and females only having a rear dorsal fin.
But the most unusual feature of Maghriboselache was its nose.
It had a very broad snout with large and unusually widely-spaced nostrils, which would have given it the ability to “smell in stereo” and determine the direction of scents carried through the water much more precisely – making it the earliest known example of that sort of sensory specialization.
Living during the Pliocene and Pleistocene in Florida and Texas, between about 5 and 1.8 million years ago, Titanis stood around 1.5-1.8m tall (~5-6′) and was heavily built, with long strong legs and a massive hooked beak. Remains of its small wings were incomplete and fragmentary but had seemingly unusual joints, with what looked like a stiffer wrist and more flexible “fingers” than other birds, which led paleontologist Robert Chandler to propose in 1994 that this terror bird species had modified its wings into clawed grasping arms similar to those of dromaeosaurs, used to restrain prey animals while its beak tore them apart.
But the idea of a giant murder-bird with added meathook-hands only lasted about a decade. Further investigation in 2005 showed that Titanis‘ arms weren’t that weird after all – the same sort of joints are found in terror birds’ closest living relatives, the seriemas, and so Titanis really had the same sort of small vestigial wings as many other large flightless birds.
…However, there still could have been some claws on there. Many modern birds actually have one or two small claws on their hands that aren’t visible under their feathers, and terror birds like Titanis having something like that going on is completely plausible – they just wouldn’t have been using them for any sort of specalized predatory function.