Funded through the ARC Discovery Projects scheme, Professor John Long and his research team at Flinders University and The Australian National University have discovered a remarkable ancient fish with a long snout, reminiscent of a platypus bill.

The fossil, named Brindabellaspis, belongs to an extinct group of armoured fish called the placoderms, and was found in a region near the Brindabella Ranges in New South Wales which is the site of one of the world’s oldest coral reefs.

Placoderms existed as a diverse range of species on the reef habitat 400 million years ago, occupying many of the evolutionary niches that are now taken up on modern reefs by ray-finned fishes.

The research team have reconstructed two of the ancient fossils and discovered the fish had a long bill extending out in front of its eyes.

The discovery shows that early species of vertebrate fish were highly adapted and specialised, and opens up many more questions about what might still be discovered in this remarkable Australian fossil reef.

The researchers suggest that the bill of Brindabellaspis may have had a function similar to that of a modern platypus or a paddle fish, whose snout is full of electroreceptors to help locate its prey.

Image (top): A life reconstruction of Brindabellaspis stensioi, an unusual placoderm fish from the 400-million-year old Burrinjuck reef in New South Wales, Australia.
Credit: Jason art, Shenzhen.
Image (bottom): The long platypus-like snout of the 400 million year old placoderm fish Brinadabellaspis, from the Taemas site in NSW.
Credit: J.Long, Flinders University.