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Temporal range: Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous
Lycoptera davidi.jpg
L. davidi, from Yixian, Liaoning, China, Lower Cretaceous (Aptian)
Scientific classification

Müller, 1847
Type species
Lycoptera middendorffi
Müller, 1847

See text

  • Prolebias Sauvage, 1880

Lycoptera is a genus of fish that lived from the late Jurassic to Cretaceous periods in present-day China, Korea, Mongolia and Siberia. It is known from abundant fossils representing sixteen species, which serve as important index fossil used to date geologic formations in China. Along with the genus Peipiaosteus, Lycoptera has been considered a defining member of the Jehol Biota, a prehistoric ecosystem famous for its early birds and feathered dinosaurs, which flourished for 20 million years during the Early Cretaceous.[1]


A reconstruction of Lycoptera davidi

Lycoptera species were small freshwater fish. Most species fed on plankton, and had numerous tiny teeth. A few species like L. gansuensis, L. muroii, and L. sinensis had larger teeth and probably fed on small insects and their larvae.[2]

Many specimens preserve minute details and impressions of soft tissues. Lycoptera was covered in tiny oval scales about 1.2 millimeters across, and, in life, would have had a superficial resemblance to the Common minnow.[3]

Lycoptera fossils are commonly found in large groups, buried together quickly in fine lake sediments. This probably indicates that they were gregarious in life, congregating in shoals.[2]

Classification and species[edit]

Lycoptera davidi (6.8 cm long), near-lowermost Cretaceous, Liaoning Province, China
L. muroii, 53mm, collected near Jehol, Liaoning, China, Lower Cretaceous

Sixteen species of Lycoptera have been described, nine from the Jehol Group. The table below is based primarily on the valid species listed by Zhang and Jin in the 2008 book The Jehol Fossils.[2]

Name Author Year Status Notes
Lycoptera middendorffi Müller 1847 Valid, type species
Lycoptera macrorhyncha (Eichwald) (1868)
Lycoptera davidi (Sauvage) (1880) Valid
Lycoptera sinensis Woodward 1901 Valid
Lycoptera ferox Grabau 1923
Lycoptera chosenensis Makiyama 1927
Lycoptera kansuensis Grabau 1928
Lycoptera woodwardi Grabau 1928
Lycoptera jaholensis Grabau 1928
Lycoptera fragilis Hussakof 1932 Valid
Lycoptera takunagai Seito 1936 Valid
Lycoptera muroii (Takai) (1943) Valid
Lycoptera longicephalus Liu et al. 1962 Valid
Lycoptera lunteensis Liu et al. 1962
Lycoptera polyspondylus Liu et al. 1962
Lycoptera tungi Liu et al. 1962
Lycoptera wangi
Lycoptera sankeyushuensis (Ma & Sun) (1988) Valid
Lycoptera fuxinensis Zhang 2002 Valid


  1. ^ Jin, F., Zhang, F.C., Li, Z.H., Zhang, J.Y., Li, C. and Zhou, Z.H. (2008). "On the horizon of Protopteryx and the early vertebrate fossil assemblages of the Jehol Biota." Chinese Science Bulletin, 53(18): 2820-2827.
  2. ^ a b c Zhang, J.Y.; Jin, F. (2008). "Fishes". In Chen, P.; Zhang, M.; Wang, Y. The Jehol fossils: the emergence of feathered dinosaurs, beaked birds and flowering plants. Academic Press. pp. 69–76. ISBN 9780123741738.
  3. ^ Cockerell, Theodore D.A. (1922). "The affinities of the fish Lycoptera middendorffi". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 51 (8).