An Ultimate Guide to Helicoprion: The Spiral Saw Shark

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NameHelicoprion DietCarnivorous
Name Meaning“The spiral saw shark”Height14 cm (5.5 in)
PronunciationHe-li-cop-ri-onLength16-25 feet (5-7.6 meters) 
EraMesozoicLate CretaceousWeight1,000 pounds (453.6 kgs)
ClassificationChondrichthyes,‭ Eugeneodontida,‭ & HelicoprionidaeLocationNorth America, Europe, Asia

Helicoprion Shark Pictures

Helicoprion | Nobumichi Tamura via GettyImages

The Helicoprion

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Helicoprion Concept
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Helicoprion Concept

Over the millions of years that the earth has existed, thousands of unique species have dominated the lands, air, and prehistoric waters. 

The vast expanse of Earth’s prehistoric oceans once bore witness to an astonishing array of ancient marine predators that ruled the depths with unrivaled supremacy. 

Among these awe-inspiring creatures, prehistoric sharks stand out as some of the ancient seas’ most captivating and enigmatic inhabitants. 

For millions of years, these formidable predators navigated through an evolving world, their fossils now offering a glimpse into the mysteries of our planet’s distant past. 

Each prehistoric shark species holds a unique tale etched into its fossilized remains, from the iconic and colossal Megalodon, boasting colossal proportions and unrivaled hunting prowess, to the mysterious Helicoprion, adorned with its distinctive spiral-toothed jaw.

Helicoprion was discovered by finding its distinctive fossilized remains, specifically its unique spiral-toothed jaw, one of its most intriguing features. 

The first recognized discovery of Helicoprion fossils can be traced back to the late 19th century

Front view of Helicoprion on white background
Front view of Helicoprion on white background | Hypersphere via GettyImages

The creature’s name was coined by the paleontologist Alexander Petrovich Karpinsky

He named this enigmatic prehistoric shark in 1899 based on fossilized tooth whorls and jaw fragments discovered in Russia. 

Helicoprion is derived from Greek words: helix, meaning spiral, and prion, meaning saw. 

It refers to the unique spiral arrangement of the creature’s teeth, one of its most distinctive and puzzling features. 

The tooth whorl was initially thought to be a saw-like structure, leading to early interpretations of the animal as a sawfish. 

However, subsequent research and discoveries revealed the true nature of Helicoprion’s tooth whorl, solidifying its status as an ancient shark with a mysterious dental adaptation. 

Asides its unique teeth, this prehistoric shark had other unique features that present-day sharks do not. 

This article covers several other unique features and aspects of this creature’s existence.

Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Shirt Collection
Gage Beasley's Prehistoric Plush Collection
Gage Beasley’s Prehistoric Plush Collection

Physical Characteristics

The size of the Helicoprion has been a subject of speculation and estimation based on comparisons with modern relatives and other extinct species. 

For most experts, the leading indicator of this species’ size is their unique teeth whorls

Gage Beasley Prehistoric's Helicoprion Size Comparison Chart
Gage Beasley Prehistoric’s Helicoprion Size Comparison Chart

Upon close examination of said teeth whorls, it was concluded that the Helicoprion was between 16 and 20 feet, with the largest specimen reaching up to 25 feet. 

However, it is important to note that these estimates are only partially conclusive and may be subject to revision as discoveries and improved techniques for estimating size become available. 

Despite the limited fossil evidence of Helicoprion’s body structure, paleontologists have made educated interpretations based on what is known about related species and the environment in which Helicoprion lived. 

As part of the class Chondrichthyes, Helicoprion shared several characteristics with modern sharks and rays. 

This genus possessed a streamlined body, a common trait among many aquatic predators, which would have allowed it to move swiftly and efficiently through the water.

The incomplete and rare nature of Helicoprion fossil specimens has made reconstructing its skeleton complex. 

However, based on available evidence, paleontologists have pieced together a general idea of its overall body structure and organization. 

This creature, alongside modern sharks and rays, belonged to the Chondrichthyan fishes class. 

Tooth-whorl of Helicoprion
Tooth-whorl of Helicoprion | James St. John via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

Its skeleton was predominantly cartilaginous, a distinguishing feature of this group. Cartilaginous skeletons, composed mainly of cartilage tissue rather than bone, are less likely to fossilize than bones, contributing to the scarcity of complete Helicoprion remains. 

In other words, like other extinct cartilaginous fish, the skeleton is mostly unknown. 

The study of the Helicoprion’s skull has been challenging due to the scarcity of complete fossilized specimens. 

Initially, researchers relied on fragmented evidence, such as isolated teeth and jaw fragments, which left many questions unanswered. 

However, as more comprehensive fossils have been unearthed, modern paleontologists have better understood the Helicoprion’s cranial structure.

Of all its features, the most unique feature of the Helicoprion is its distinct tooth whorl. 

The tooth whorl of Helicoprion is a peculiar and intricate structure with a long, continuous spiral of teeth that tightly coil together in the fish’s lower jaw. 

Prehistoric Helicoprion shark with teeth spiraling up into its jaws
Prehistoric Helicoprion shark with teeth spiraling up into its jaws | Dorling Kindersley via GettyImages

The teeth grew continuously throughout the creature’s life, with newer teeth forming at the back of the whorl and older, worn-down teeth being pushed to the center. 

This process resulted in a constantly expanding spiral with multiple rows of teeth, creating a sharp, cutting edge. 

The subsequent teeth were typically triangular, laterally compressed, and frequently serrated, except the youngest and first tooth in the spiral’s core, the juvenile tooth arch

The teeth grew larger as you moved away from the spiral’s core; the longest tooth might have been almost four inches long. 

The Helicoprion lineage represents an intriguing chapter in the evolutionary history of chondrichthyans, and its tooth whorl stands as a fascinating testament to the diversity of life that existed in prehistoric oceans.

Habitat and Distribution

According to experts, the Helicoprion existed in the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era. 

The creature was first identified in the late 19th century when fragments of its distinctive tooth whorls were unearthed in various regions around the globe. 

It was in the 20th century that more complete specimens were discovered, leading to a better understanding of its phylogeny. 

During the Permian and the Early Triassic periods when this creature lived, approximately 290 to 250 million years ago, the earth’s continents were arranged differently from today, forming the supercontinent Pangaea

The distribution of the Helicoprion’s fossils indicates that it inhabited the ancient oceans surrounding Pangaea. 

This creature was well-adapted to a marine environment and likely preferred coastal or shallow waters. 

Its close relatives, the modern-day chimeras, usually inhabit deep-sea environments, but the Helicoprion likely thrived in more accessible regions. 

Fossil evidence indicates that it may have shared its habitat with other marine creatures, such as ammonites, ichthyosaurs, and various marine reptiles and fish.

School of Ichthyosaurs underwater | CoreyFord via iStock

Because most continents as we know them were joined to form one supercontinent, countries and borders as they currently are were not defined. 

During this time, vast seas covered parts of present-day North America, Europe, and Asia, allowing this ancient predator to roam throughout the Paleo-Tethys Ocean

The availability of suitable fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks limits the exact distribution of Helicoprion.

Still, the species’ presence has been confirmed in regions like various parts of the USA, Russia, Kazakhstan, and China. 

Other regions where this creature’s fossils have been found include Western Australia, Norway, Japan, Canada, and Mexico.

Behavior and Diet

Two Helicoprions underwater
Two Helicoprions underwater | Hypersphere via GettyImages

Understanding the social behavior of ancient species is intrinsically difficult, particularly when studying creatures like Helicoprion with little fossil records. 

Several experts suggest the creature was a lone predator based on its physical characteristics and ecological adaptations. 

They contend that its powerful jaw, which included spiral teeth, was ideal for capturing and digesting food without the aid of a group. 

Some researchers, however, contend that Helicoprion may have displayed some social activity. 

According to their theories, some common characteristics, such as relatively big body sizes and comparable tooth patterns in a group of people, may point to social arrangements resembling the modern-day schooling behavior seen in some shark species.

The idea that Helicoprion displayed schooling behavior stems from comparisons with living sharks. 

Close-up shot of hammerhead shark swimming on the ocean floor | EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER via iStock

Modern-day shark species, like hammerheads and reef sharks, are known to form schools to enhance their collective hunting efficiency, avoid predators, and facilitate mating opportunities. 

Some proponents of the schooling behavior hypothesis suggest that Helicoprion employed a similar strategy. 

Another aspect to consider when examining this creature’s social behavior is its growth and development. 

Changes in behavior often occur during an organism’s life cycle, and Helicoprion would be no exception.

If this ancient fish exhibited complex social structures, interactions, or behaviors, they might have varied during different life stages, much like modern sharks and many marine species. 

Moreover, if Helicoprion had social interactions during its early life stages, it might have relied on communal behavior to increase survival rates, as observed in many present-day marine animals.

Unlike modern sharks, which continuously shed and replace their teeth, Helicoprion’s teeth grew outward from the center of the whorl. 

As the older teeth wore down or broke, new teeth formed in the center, pushing the older ones outward spirally. 

A well-preserved Helicoprion bessonowi tooth-whorl | Citron via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

This unique dental adaptation allowed the shark to maintain a functional cutting edge throughout its life.

Helicoprion’s distinctive saw-like tooth whorl suggests a diet of soft-bodied prey and the absence of tooth wear since hard-shelled animals would easily slide out of the mouth. 

The spiral-toothed shark likely ambushed its prey, using stealth and surprise to catch fish, cephalopods, and other small marine animals. 

As the Helicoprion approached its prey, it would have opened its mouth wide, revealing the terrifying tooth whorl. 

Once the prey was within range, the shark would snap its jaws shut, slicing through the fish with serrated teeth, effectively capturing and securing its meal.

Life Cycle

Side of Helicoprion on white background
Side of Helicoprion on white background | Hypersphere via GettyImages

Not all sharks lay eggs, as shark reproduction can vary among species. 

Sharks have three main reproduction types: oviparous, viviparous, and ovoviviparous. 

Oviparous sharks lay eggs and deposit them in a protective egg case, often called a mermaid’s purse. 

Viviparous sharks give birth to live young. In this type of reproduction, the developing embryos receive nourishment directly from the mother through a placental connection, similar to how mammals develop. 

Ovoviviparous sharks, on the other hand, are a combination of oviparous and viviparous reproduction. 

The female produces eggs, but instead of laying them, she retains the eggs within her body until they hatch. 

Helicoprion on a black background
Helicoprion on a black background | Hypersphere via GettyImages

Although little is known about the early stages of Helicoprion’s life, experts presume that they hatched from eggs laid in shallow marine environments and likely went through a vulnerable larval phase before developing into juveniles. 

As juveniles, the creature would have inhabited shallower waters near the coast, where they could find abundant food and protection from larger predators. 

During this stage, their teeth would have started forming the initial coils of the spiral jaw structure. Helicoprion reached adulthood in the open ocean, venturing into deeper waters in search of prey. 

The continuous growth and addition of teeth to the spiral jaw allowed the adults to consume larger prey and maintain their position at the top of the marine food chain.

Evolution and History

An outdated illustration of H. bessonowi
An outdated illustration of H. bessonowi | Dmitry Bogdanov via Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

The Helicoprion belongs to the class Chondrichthyes, which includes modern-day sharks, rays, and chimeras. 

Its first remains were discovered in the late 19th century, primarily in the Permian and Carboniferous sedimentary rocks of North America, Russia, and Kazakhstan. 

The creature is renowned for its unique tooth arrangement, which comprises a spiral-shaped tooth whorl encased in the lower jaw. 

Early interpretations of this feature sparked heated debates among paleontologists, with numerous hypotheses proposed regarding its function and placement.

The evolutionary lineage of Helicoprion remains a subject of ongoing research and debate. 

Artist's reconstruction of the extinct Holocephalian Helicoprion davisii
Artist’s reconstruction of the extinct Holocephalian Helicoprion davisii | Entelognathus via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

While its fossil record provides some insights into its anatomical adaptations, gaps still exist in our understanding of its early evolutionary history. 

Researchers are continually working to analyze and interpret new fossil findings, using advanced technologies like CT scans and computer modeling to reconstruct Helicoprion’s morphology accurately. 

These studies have shed light on its evolutionary relationships with other ancient sharks, helping us better comprehend the broader evolutionary history of Chondrichthyes.

Interactions with Other Species

The primary diet of Helicoprion consisted of various marine species, including fish and cephalopods. 

Fossil evidence and tooth morphology suggest that the Helicoprion primarily targeted smaller and medium-sized prey, such as bony fishes and ammonites. 

Helicoprion and Xenacanthus
Portrait of Helicoprion and Xenacanthus swimming in the waters | ZU_09 via iStock

The presence of Helicoprion in the ancient oceans likely contributed to its role as an apex predator. 

As the top predator in the marine food chain, Helicoprion exerted control over the populations of its prey species, thus indirectly influencing the entire ecosystem. 

This apex predator status likely had far-reaching effects on maintaining ecological balance during the Permian and Triassic periods.

While this creature was a dominant predator, it did not exist in isolation. 

The prehistoric seas teemed with diverse marine life, including other large predators like ichthyosaurs and marine reptiles. 

Competition for resources and space would have been inevitable. 

Still, Helicoprion’s specialized feeding mechanism may have allowed it to exploit different niches than its contemporaries, promoting coexistence rather than confrontation. 

Helicoprion in a game
Helicoprion in a game | Xenephos via JWMGFandom

Helicoprion helped maintain the balance of species diversity and ecological stability by controlling prey populations. Its predatory behavior could have prevented species from dominating the ecosystem, promoting a healthy and resilient environment.

Cultural Significance

The discovery of Helicoprion fossils revolutionized paleontology’s understanding of ancient marine life. 

Studying the creature’s tooth whorl led to debates and scientific inquiries about its purpose, feeding habits, and evolutionary significance. 

It sparked discussions about how ancient organisms adapted to their environments, contributing valuable information to paleontology and evolutionary biology. 

The creature’s bizarre appearance and the mystery surrounding its tooth whorl made it a subject of speculation and wonder. 

In some ancient societies, Helicoprion fossils were revered as sacred objects and associated with mythical creatures or gods believed to possess divine powers. 

Helicoprion in Ark Surivival Game
Helicoprion in Ark Surivival Game | Sreyrdas via Ark Fandom

Modern mythology and literary works have also cited the Helicoprion’s fascinating apparition in more recent times. 

Its teeth whorl has been likened to mythological animals like dragons, highlighting the narrative’s line between the known and the unknown.

Museums and science centers often use replicas or reconstructed models of Helicoprion fossils to engage visitors, sparking interest in paleontology, natural history, and the wonders of Earth’s deep past. 

The creature’s unique dental structure and its place in the evolution of marine life have become fascinating topics for both children and adults, making it a valuable tool in science communication. 

By understanding the evolutionary history of creatures like the Helicoprion, scientists and conservationists can better understand how climate change and human activities might affect modern marine life. 

As a cultural icon, the Helicoprion raises awareness of the need to protect marine habitats and conserve biodiversity.


Helicoprion, the enigmatic spiral saw shark, has captivated the imagination of scientists, artists, and the public, leaving an indelible mark on our understanding of prehistoric marine life. 

Its unique tooth whorl and mysterious dental adaptation have intrigued paleontologists, sparking debates and inquiries about its evolutionary significance. 

As a top predator of its time, Helicoprion played a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance of ancient marine ecosystems. 

From ancient myths to modern literature, its striking appearance has inspired cultural references, while in educational settings, it serves as a fascinating tool for science communication. 

By studying Helicoprion’s evolutionary history, we gain valuable insights into the Earth’s deep past and the importance of preserving marine biodiversity in the face of environmental challenges.


Are there any modern shark species related to Helicoprion?

While Helicoprion is not directly related to any specific modern shark species, it shares evolutionary ancestry with them. 

Modern-day chimeras, or ghost sharks or ratfish, are considered the closest living relatives to Helicoprion within the Chondrichthyes class.

Were there other species of Helicoprion besides the ones identified?

The Helicoprion genus is known to have three distinct species: Helicoprion davisii, Helicoprion bessonowi, and Helicoprion ergassaminon

Each species has a unique tooth whorl and fossil evidence, contributing to our understanding of the genus.

However, as with many prehistoric creatures, there may have been other species that have yet to be discovered or are awaiting further classification based on new fossil findings and research.


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