Acanthodii (sometimes called spiny sharks) is a class of extinct fishes, sharing features with both bony fish and cartilaginous fish. In form they resembled sharks, but their epidermis was covered with tiny rhomboid platelets like the scales of holosteans (gars, bowfins). They may have been an independent phylogenetic branch of fishes, which had evolved from little-specialized forms close to Recent Chondrichthyes. Acanthodians did, in fact, have a cartilaginous skeleton, but their fins had a wide, bony base and were reinforced on their anterior margin with a dentine spine. The earliest acanthodians were marine, but during the Devonian, freshwater species became predominant. They are distinguished in two respects: they were the earliest known jawed vertebrates, and they had stout spines supporting their fins, fixed in place and non-movable (like a shark's dorsal fin). Mesacanthus, Parexus, and Ischnacanthus of Early Devonian Great Britain There were three orders: Climatiiformes, Ischnacanthiformes and Acanthodiformes. Climatiiforma had shoulder armor and many small sharp spines, Ischnacanthiforma with teeth fused to the jaw, and the Acanthodiforma were filter feeders, with no teeth in the jaw, but long gill rakers. Overall, the acanthodians' jaws are presumed to have evolved from the first gill arch of some ancestral jawless fishes that had a gill skeleton made of pieces of jointed cartilage. The popular name "spiny sharks" is really a misnomer for these early jawed fishes. The name was coined because they were superficially shark-shaped, with a streamlined body, paired fins, and a strongly upturned tail; stout bony spines supported all the fins except the tail - hence, "spiny sharks". Fossilized spines and scales are often all that remains of these fishes in ancient sedimentary rocks. The scales of Acanthodii have distinctive ornamentation peculiar to each order. Because of this, the scales are often used in determining relative age of sedimentary rock. The scales are tiny, with a bulbous base, a neck, a
d a flat or slightly curved diamond-shaped crown. Despite being called "spiny sharks," acanthodians predate sharks. They evolved in the sea at the beginning of the Silurian Period, some 50 million years before the first sharks appeared. Later the acanthodians colonized fresh waters, and thrived in the rivers and lakes during the Devonian and in the coal swamps of Carboniferous. But the first bony fishes were already showing their potential to dominate the waters of the world, and their competition proved too much for the spiny sharks, which died out in Permian times (approximately 250 MYA). Many paleonthologists consider that the acanthodians were close to the ancestors of the bony fishes. Although their interior skeletons were made of cartilage, a bonelike material had developed in the skins of these fishes, in the form of closely fitting scales (see above). Some scales were greatly enlarged and formed a bony covering on top of the head and over the lower shoulder girdle. Others developed a bony flap over the gill openings analogous to the operculum in later bony fishes. The Bowfin, Amia calva, is the last surviving member of the order Amiiformes (which includes 3 additional, now-extinct families dating from the Jurassic, to the Eocene), and of the family Amiidae (which contains numerous species in about four subfamilies, only one of which, Amiinae, is extant). The Bowfin is a freshwater piscivore, preying on fish and larger aquatic invertebrates by ambush or stalking. Native to southeastern Canada and eastern United States, they prefer shallow, weedy waters of lakes or protected back waters of rivers. Bowfin are able to breathe air, using their swim bladder, which is connected to their gastrointestinal tract and allows them to regulate their buoyancy in the water, as a primitive lung. The fish can be seen coming to the surface and gulping air. This limits them to a specific depth range in which the surface is accessible. They tend to utilize shoreline habitats that are not accessible to other predatory fish.