Science, Tech, Math › Animals & Nature Stethacanthus Share Flipboard Email Print Animals & Nature Dinosaurs Marine Reptiles Basics Paleontologists Carnivores Dinosaurs & Birds Herbivores Prehistoric Mammals Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Wildlife Conservation Insects Marine Life Forestry Evolution View More By Bob Strauss Science Writer B.S., Cornell University Bob Strauss is a science writer and the author of several books, including "The Big Book of What, How and Why" and "A Field Guide to the Dinosaurs of North America." our editorial process Bob Strauss Updated January 09, 2020 Name: Stethacanthus (Greek for "chest spike"); pronounced STEH-thah-CAN-thussHabitat: Oceans worldwideHistorical Period: Late Devonian-Early Carboniferous (390-320 million years ago)Size and Weight: Two to three feet long and 10-20 poundsDiet: Marine animalsDistinguishing Characteristics: Small size; strange, ironing-board shaped back structure on males About Stethacanthus In most ways, Stethacanthus was an unremarkable prehistoric shark of the late Devonian and early Carboniferous periods-; relatively small (a maximum of three feet long and 20 or so pounds) but a dangerous, hydrodynamic predator that posed a constant menace to small fish as well as other, smaller sharks. What really set Stethacanthus apart was the strange protrusion, often described as an "ironing board," that jutted out from the backs of the males. Since the top of this structure was rough, rather than smooth, experts have speculated that it may have served as a docking mechanism that attached males securely to females during the act of mating. It took a long time, and a lot of fieldwork, to determine the exact appearance and function of this "spine-brush complex" (as the "ironing board" is called by paleontologists). When the first Stethacanthus specimens were discovered, in Europe and North America in the late 19th century, these structures were interpreted as a new type of fin; the "clasper" theory was accepted only in the 1970s after it was discovered that only males possessed "ironing boards." Given the large, flat "ironing boards" protruding from their backs, Stethacanthus adults (or at least the males) couldn't have been particularly fast swimmers. That fact, combined with the unique arrangement of this prehistoric shark's teeth, point to Stethacanthus having been primarily a bottom-feeder, though it might not have been adverse to actively chase down slower fish and cephalopods when the opportunity presented itself.