The Fossils

Mandageria fairfaxi Johanson and Ahlberg 1997

Pronunciation: Man-daj-er-ree-a fair-fax-i
Translation: "Fairfax's Mandagery"
Named after the philanthropist Mr James Fairfax, and after the Mandagery Sandstone Formation in which the fossils were found.
Period: Late Devonian (360-70 million years ago)
Description: Large carnivorous lobe-finned fish
Length - up to 1.6 metres to 1.8 metres

Class - Osteichthyes ('bony fish')
Subclass - Sarcopterygii ('fleshy-fins')
Superorder - Crossopterygii (lobe-finned fishes)
Order - Osteolepiformes ('bony scaled forms')
Family - Tristichopteridae
Genus - Mandageria
Species - Mandageria fairfaxi

In the Devonian

Mandageria fairfaxi, the largest fish known from the Canowindra site, was described and named in 1997 by Dr Zerina Johanson of the Australian Museum, Sydney and Dr Per Ahlberg, at the Natural History Museum, London 1997.

Reaching nearly 2 metres in length, Mandageria was the top predator in the Canowindra fish community. Its long, torpedo-shaped body superficially resembles the quite unrelated pike of today. Large pike are very agile, and catch their prey by ambushing it - the long body-form is particularly good for rapid acceleration - and it is likely that Mandageria hunted in a similar way.

In sarcopterygian fishes a series of internal supporting bones within their paired pectoral fins allowed the fish to manoeuvre precisely in the water, using a sculling action of these fleshy fins. The bones inside these fins are directly comparable to our own limb bones (humerus, radius and ulna etc.). Mandageria's large pectoral fins probably helped it manoeuvre around submerged logs when preparing to attack its prey. Its large deep skull had robust, powerful jaws lined with a series of large fangs.

One specimen of Mandageria fairfaxi revealed a most unusual feature. A small bone at the rear of Mandagerias braincase, which contacted the first vertebra in its backbone, displayed two distinct facets. These confirmed that Mandageria could raise and lower its large head and thus provide evidence for the beginnings of a distinct neck joint in sarcopterygian fishes.