The Living Fossil: This Fish "Walked" the Waters of the Indian Ocean Undetected by Scientists for Thousands of Years

By Burridge, Mary | ROM Magazine, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Living Fossil: This Fish "Walked" the Waters of the Indian Ocean Undetected by Scientists for Thousands of Years


Burridge, Mary, ROM Magazine


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Against all odds, a fish thought to be extinct for 65 million years was hauled up from the depths of the Indian Ocean in 1938 off the east coast of South Africa. Evidence of the coelacanth disappeared from the fossil record during the last great extinction when more than 50 percent of the world's animal species, including the dinosaurs, were wiped out. Finding a living coelacanth--considered one of the great scientific discoveries of the 20th century--was as miraculous as coming across a dinosaur walking through the Alberta badlands.

Not surprisingly, its known as a "living fossil." Its other nickname, "old four legs," refers to the coelacanth's paired, lobed fins that move in an alternating gait similar to a human swinging its arms while walking-- distinctly unlike the swimming motion of other fishes. This trait is one of a unique set of features that led ichthyologists to class the coelacanth lineage as the most closely related to early four-legged land animals called tetrapods--a kind of missing link between water and land dwellers.

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