kuvp497w.jpg (72243 bytes)


Mystery fish of the Smoky Hill Chalk



Copyright © 2000-2010 by Mike Everhart

Last updated 02/24/2010


LEFT: The skull of Martinichthys brevis (KUVP 497); it is the only known, reasonably complete skull of this genus.

Martinichthys is a rare and rather enigmatic fish whose remains have been found only in the Smoky Hill Chalk of Kansas and only there in a very limited stratigraphic range (latest Coniacian). It is a member of a group of fish called plethodids. Plethodids are a fairly common but relatively primitive group of medium sized, Late Cretaceous fish. The Family Plethodidae includes the genera: Niobrara, Zanclites, Luxilites, Syntegmodus, Bananogmius, Pentanogmius "Anogmius" evolutus, Martinichthys, Thryptodus, and Plethodus (see OOK field guide to fishes for more information). In the case of Martinichthys, the rostrum, or snout, is the heaviest bone in the skeleton and most often preserved.   The rest of post cranial bones were apparently poorly ossified, and aside from two specimens that include skull material and some vertebrae, are not known to be preserved.  

marfiela.jpg (4934 bytes) LEFT: An "as found" view of a small Martinichthys rostrum (FHSM VP-15561 / EPC 1993-02) that I discovered in Gove County, KS., in 1993. It appears quite possible that many of the rostra that are found represent the remains of a meal by a larger predator. Several Martinichthys rostra have been found with definite bite marks. (Scale = inches)

The earliest known specimen (AMNH 2131) in the American Museum of Natural History was first reported (and first identified as the worn rostrum of a new species of Protosphyraena (Erisichthe ziphioides) by E. D. Cope in 1877. O. P. Hay took exception to Cope's description and published a figure of the type specimen (below) in 1903. Like Cope, he also had a problem in properly orienting and identifying the specimen, and repeated Cope's error by calling it Protosphyraena ziphioides. It wasn't until additional material, including a complete skull (KUVP 497 above) and a partial skull (KUVP 498), was available in the University of Kansas collection, that C. E. McClung published his paper describing six new species of Martinichthys as a new genus of Late Cretaceous fish known only from Kansas. More recently, Taverne (1999), has reviewed the genus and reduced the number of species to two (Martinichthys ziphioides and M. brevis), with the type specimens of both species in the collection of the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History.

AMNH FF2131a.jpg (27186 bytes) LEFT: The first known figure showing the rostrum of Martinichthys ziphioides (Cope - AMNH FF 2131), originally published as Protosphyraena ziphioides, by O. P. Hay in: On certain genera and species of North American Cretaceous Actinopterous fishes, Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XIX, Figure 13, 1903. Although not quite as embarrassing as putting the head on the wrong end of the plesiosaur, both Cope and Hay described the original specimen 'upside-down', with Cope calling it the "muzzle of an old individual [of the primitive swordfish, Protosphyraena] which has lost a great deal of its apex by attrition." The specimen was collected from the Smoky Hill Chalk of Gove County by Charles H. Sternberg  on June 9, 1877.

(Figure adapted from Hay, 1903)

kuvp497a.jpg (25626 bytes) LEFT: The type specimen of Martinichthys brevis (KUVP 497) in the collection of the Natural History Museum of The University of Kansas, and the only known, reasonably complete skull of Martinichthys. This is the only known publication of a picture of this skull since it was first described and published with photographs in 1926 by C. E. McClung (A drawing of this skull was published by Taverne, 2000).  Note that there are five vertebrae associated with the skull.  (Scale = cm)
kuvp498a.jpg (10273 bytes) LEFT: The skull of the type specimens of Martinichthys ziphioides (KUVP 498) in the collection of the Natural History Museum of The University of Kansas. There are 21 vertebrae associated with this specimen. (Scale = cm)

In 2003, Pam and I donated our entire collection (19 specimens) of Martinichthys rostra to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. Most of our specimens are shown below with their new Sternberg (FHSM) number, and our original Everhart Paleontology Collection (EPC) number:

martin1a.jpg (4004 bytes) Dorsal and ventral views of two specimens: FHSM VP-15549 (EPC 1989-A) and FHSM VP-15553 (EPC 1990-16).  martin2a.jpg (4022 bytes)
martin5a.jpg (3468 bytes) Dorsal and ventral views of seven specimens:   FHSM VP-15558 (EPC 1991-27), FHSM VP-15557 (EPC 1991-14), FHSM VP-15562 (EPC 1995-21), FHSM VP-155561 (EPC 1993-02), FHSM VP-15552 (EPC 1989-33), FHSM VP-15550 (EPC 1989-11B) and FHSM VP -15556 (EPC 1990-59). martin6a.jpg (3372 bytes)
martin3a.jpg (3997 bytes) Dorsal and ventral views of 6 specimens: FHSM VP-15555 (EPC 1990-23), FHSM VP-15551 (EPC 1989-29), FHSM VP-15554 (EPC1990-25), FHSM VP 15563 (EPC 1995-40), FHSM VP-15559 (EPC 1992-10, mis-labeled as 1993-10) and FHSM VP-15560 (EPC 1992-35). martin4a.jpg (4158 bytes)
epc0329a.jpg (4279 bytes) A pair of 2003 discoveries of Martinichthys from Gove County, Kansas.  At left FHSM VP-15566 (EPC 2003-29) is the rostrum of a young M. ziphioides; at right, FHSM VP-15567 (EPC 2003-34) is the rostrum of a much older adult of M. brevis. Both of these specimens were found BELOW Marker Unit 3, making them the oldest examples of Martinichthys for which a stratigraphic horizon has been documented. epc0334a.jpg (6201 bytes)
epc05-1a.jpg (18153 bytes) Two additional Martinichthys discoveries (2005) from Gove County, KS.

LEFT: A fairly large M. ziphioides rostrum (Top = dorsal view; bottom = ventral view). This specimen also appears to be partially digested, leaving me to wonder if many or most of the remains we have found have been the remains of a meal... might explain why we don't find additional post-cranial material.  Maybe Martinichthys tasted really good.

Right: A damaged but apparently bitten and partially digested Martinichthys rostrum. 

epc05-2a.jpg (19522 bytes)
EPC2009-01a.jpg (17342 bytes) LEFT: My most recently collected specimen.. EPC 2009-01 (May, 2009)... from just below MU4 in southeastern Gove County. Like many others that I have collected, it appears to be partially digested.

RIGHT: A shell coprolite collected from another locality in Gove County, discovered sitting on top of Marker Unit 5.  Preservation is unusual in this case, in part because the coprolite was preserved sitting on the edge of an inoceramid shell. Note that the cross section shows nothing but ground up oyster (Pseudoperna) shells.

EPC-I-01-2009a.jpg (23701 bytes)


Other Oceans of Kansas webpages on Late Cretaceous fish:


Field Guide to Sharks and Bony Fish of the Smoky Hill Chalk



Kansas Shark Teeth

Cretoxyrhina and Squalicorax




Bony Fish


Pycnodonts and Hadrodus












Saurodon and Saurocephalus



Cope, E. D., 1873. [On an extinct genus of saurodont fishes]. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Phil. 24;280-281. (meeting of Dec. 17, 1872) Wherein Cope names of the genus Erisichthe and describes Erisichthe (Protosphyraena) nitida). <EM>

Cope, E. D., 1877. On the genus Erisichthe. Bull. U. S. Geol. and Geog. Surv. iii, article xx. pp. 821-823. (the description and naming of Erisichthe (Martinichthys) ziphioides)

Everhart, M. J. and P. A. Everhart, 1993. Notes on the biostratigraphy of the plethodid Martinichthys in the Smoky Hill Chalk (upper Cretaceous) of western Kansas. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions, 12(Abstracts):36.

Everhart, M. J. and P. A. Everhart, 1994. Evidence of predation on the rare plethodid Martinichthys in the Smoky Hill Chalk (upper Cretaceous) of western Kansas. Kansas Academy of Science, Transactions, 13(Abstracts):36.

Hay, O. P., 1903. On certain genera and species of North American Cretaceous actinopterous fishes. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. XIX 1-95, pls. i-v, 72 text-figs.

McClung, C. E., 1926. Martinichthys, a new genus of Cretaceous fish from Kansas, with descriptions of six new species. Proc. Amer. Philos. Soc. 65 no. 5, (suppl.) 20-26, 2 pls.

Taverne, L., 1999. Révision du genre Martinichthys, poisson marin (Teleostei, Tselfatiirormes) du Crétecé supérior du Kansas (États-Unis). Geobios 33(2):211-222. (Revision of the genus Martinichthys, marine fish (Teleostei, Tselfatiiformes) from the Late Cretaceous of Kansas (United States))

Taverne, L. and Gayet, M. 2005. Phylogenetical relationships and palaeozoogeography of the marine Cretaceous Tselfatiiformes (Teleostei, Culpeocephala). Cymbium 29(1): 65-87  <LT>

More about Martinichthys - The Mystery Fish of the Smoky Hill Chalk

Oyster Shell Structures or Martinichthys Coprolites?