Dunkleosteus way cooler than Lake Erie steelhead

I’ve spent a bit of time over the past few months on the Lake Erie tributaries, mostly fishing for steelhead with my brother who lives nearby. But it’s not the introduced trout that have captured my imagination or interest, but instead a giant predator who swam in the same area 360 million years ago during the Devonian Age of Fishes — Dunkleosteus.

I first encountered the giant armored fish at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as a huge staring skull, and now it keeps resurfacing, like a shark circling a boat.

Up to 30 feet in length and possibly weighing as much as four tons in weight, Dunkleosteus was larger than most other creatures alive at the time. Its huge jaws opened so quickly they created a suction force that pulled prey into its mouth. The closing of its jaws was just as fearsome; its bite was so powerful it could snap a prehistoric shark in two with its razor-sharp jawbones. And yet Dunkleosteus did not have teeth. Instead, the edges of their jawbones kept sharp by rubbing against each other like self-sharpening scissors.


These long-extinct armored fish lived in the Cleveland area, which at the time—well before humans or dinosaurs existed—was covered by a shallow sea. The sea is gone but the sediments (sandstones and shales) that were laid down during its presence remain. As these rocks erode through the action of water and wind, a rich variety of fossil fish from the Late Devonian have been uncovered and collected. These finds have made Cleveland famous in the world of paleontology.

Dino-fish watercolor

The next time I saw Dunk, I was at the Kookoon art gallery, checking out the artwork of William Scheele. I found a print of Dunkleosteus plowing through a school of sharks and bought it for my son’s room. You can buy this great print for $20 here.

Lots of fossils have been found in the shale cliffs on our local creeks. There is a Dunk exhibit at the Rocky River Nature Center. We’re hoping to get out there this weekend.

Chock it up to an obsession with giant predatory fish, but somehow Dunkleosteous is way more compelling than lake run, non-native trout.

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