Fearsome fish’s jaw on display at museum

John Foster shows the spiky teeth of a xiphactinus at Dinosaur Journey in Fruita. Foster, curator of paleontology, says it’s the first of its kind to be found in the Grand Valley.

Some 70 million years, give or take, after its body settled into the muddy bottom of the Western Interior Seaway that we now know as the Mancos shale, the jaws of a 15-foot xiphactinus are on display at Dinosaur Journey in Fruita.

Xiphactinus was a fearsome predator that roamed the shallow inland seas of the Cretaceous Period, and its fossilized remains are well-known in Kansas.

The toothy jaw of “Jed the fish,” as he was dubbed by the family of his discoverer, Jed Smith, more than a decade ago, now sits in a display case with scales, pieces of rib, rays from a pectoral fin and other bits and pieces.

“It looks like a shark scavenged the carcass at some point,” said John Foster, curator of paleontology at Dinosaur Journey.

A tiny bit of shark tooth was unearthed when the museum last year was called in to complete the excavation.

Visitors who view the xiphactinus jaw will see spiky teeth sticking out from jawbone, but what’s not immediately plain is that both sides of the jaw were crushed and petrified together, Foster said.

He turned the jaw over to show the opposing side.

The weight of settling sands appears to have forced the two sides of the jaw together, but the bone was strong enough to hold its shape, Foster said.

“Jed the fish” is the first xiphactinus to be found in the Grand Valley, but another specimen was discovered near Snowmass in the 1960s, Foster said.

The jaw is on display from
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week at Dinosaur Journey, 550 Jurassic Court.


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