Meet the Prehistoric Saber-Toothed Salmon

Paul Vecsei's Imagination of Oncorhynchus rastrosus

Oncorhynchus rastrosus?

Have you ever heard of the late Miocene and early Pliocene epochs’ salmon that raged in the North American Pacific? This prehistoric salmonid was the most formidable that has ever existed. In an era of time roughly 5-12 million years ago, O. Rastrosus would have shared the ocean with other toothy giants such as the Megaledon shark and the Livyatan, a predatory whale. While it’s nearly impossible to define what it’s physical appearance entailed, one thing that paleontologists know without question is that O. Rastrosus was of immense size in comparison to the salmon species that grace the waters of present day. The only remnants of the salmon that have ever been found are partial skulls, unfortunately. From these fragments scientists have determined that this fish was a massive 2.5-3 metres in length and a mind bending 200-400 pounds.


Once dubbed the sabertooth salmon (Smilodonichthys rastrosus) because of it’s obtuse, protruding canine-like fangs, but now it’s evident that the teeth pointed outward. Spike toothed so to speak now, either way this fish would have been a true warrior on the redds. It’s interesting to ponder about which modern day salmon it would have resembled. The shear size automatically directs ones thoughts to a Chinook/King type build. O. Rastrosus was presumably mainly planktivorous, based on the many long overlapping gill rakers it possessed, coupled with few small unsubstantial teeth. These attributes all polarize toward a grand daddy Sockeye. If it was similar to the O. Nerka, imagine a bright red, jet ski sized fish careening up a river in early autumn, for these fish also began a metamorphosis during their migration, just as all extant salmon do. In fact, all of the specimens taken from freshwater deposits in California had subsequently larger premaxillary teeth that were noticeably worn/blunt from spawning activities.

O. Rastrosus has a minute presence in today’s literature and digital world. Existing depictions have been in small number for far too long. The call was sent out to recreate the largest salmon that has ever existed on planet and it was heard. These artists with their unique styles and mediums have opened up the sketchbooks, aisles and laptops to welcome O. Rastrosus into the hearts and minds of today’s fishophiles. Make sure to check out all the other masterpieces these brilliant, skilled individuals have to offer, below.

Kailee Nelson (@SmallestCatch)

Jake Keeler (@JakeKeeler)

Jake Keeler Saber Toothed Salmon

Pavel Francev (@PavelFrancev)

Pavel Francev Saber Toothed Salmon

Morgan Frazier (@MorganBrownArt)

Paul Vecsei (@Fish_As_Art)

Dr. Brandon Finnorn (@TheBonnieFly)

Timelapse: Watch Paul Puckett Paint Amazing Mural at Trouts Fly Fishing

Artist Spotlight: David Owens

Artist Spotlight: Tim Johnson





  1. Regardless of the politicized science, for 34 million years, the Earth has been in an Ice Age and because Earth is cold, organisms have been getting smaller and there are fewer species.
    The age of mega fauna is fascinating with salmon the size of dolphins and beavers the size of sheep. But as cold has continued, carrying capacity continues to decrease and individual organism size decreases.
    Earth history is about instability and we all should be glad we live in a warmer period as in a few thousand years, the glaciers will return.

  2. Siempre says “Regardless of politicized science…” then they make a politicized post.

    Then they add “We all should be glad that we live in a warmer period”, even though actual science strongly points to widespread extinctions and dramatic disruption of human systems in the quite near future (ie before 2100).

    Agenda much?


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