Name Meaning: Night Lamp?
Geologic Era: Late Miocene
Location Found: Puente Formation (Los Angeles County, CA)
Estimated Range: Worldwide
Size: Small (under .5 meters long)
Extinction Date: Still extant worldwide
Seen here are the faint remains of a lanternfish from the Miocene era. This one is very small (less than 10 cm in length) and not particularly well preserved. This is one of the few fossil specimens in the museum that I would discourage people from handling. The rock matrix is very light and easily flakes off with the gentlest touch. This would probably be one of the easiest specimens to accidentally damage.
The better preserved individual is toward the upper left of the matrix, while a second possible specimen is on the right hand side. This one is much darker, and a bit harder to make out any details. I can make out what is probably part of a vertebral column. My best guess is that the left hand specimen was preserved on its side, while the right hand side one was preserved either on its back or belly.
Lanternfish might be small, but they make up a significant part of the oceanic ecosystem today. It would not be unfair to think that they would have served the same function in previous eras. Lanternfish serve as food for organisms as diverse as penguins to giant squid to whales. Lanternfish migrate up and down the water column of the oceans to both feed on plankton and avoid predators. Generally, they will spend the night time hours closer to the surface, and the daylight hours in much deeper water. They also make liberal use of bioluminescence, which is how they got their name.
To give an idea of just how prolific these fish are, they were able to confuse sonar equipment into reading that parts of the ocean are much shallower than they really are. The reality is that there were so many lanternfish that the sonar was reading the waves bouncing off their swim bladders as a false ocean bottom.
Jewel Lanternfish: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=668388