Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Can a Walking Fish Teach Us about Terrestrial Evolution?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Can a Walking Fish Teach Us about Terrestrial Evolution?

Article excerpt

A report analyzing the characteristics of blind cavefish in Thailand found that the creature can walk, making it unique among all fishes and potentially showing how species may have evolved to live on land hundreds of millions of years ago.

The study, released this week in Scientific Reports by New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) researchers, examines the uncommon anatomy of the Cryptotora thamicola, also known as the cave angel fish. The NJIT team analyzed C. thamicola's morphology to determine why it, unlike any other known fish, exhibits a "tetrapodal walking behaviour" similar to other vertebrates that live on land and if it could provide clues into evolutionary transition.

"They have fin structures unlike any fish that I have ever seen, anywhere," one of the researchers said in a video about the discovery.

"Out of the 30,000 species of fishes that we know to exist, these fish are truly spectacular and look different than everything else that we've ever seen," she added.

The cave angels, despite being blind, are able to navigate waterways and can actually climb rock faces in the same manner as salamanders. The fish may only reach one to two inches in length, but have evolved with a "robust pelvic girdle" that allows them to walk on land "with a tetrapod-like gait."

The researchers note that many other species of fish have acquired some ways to navigate terrestrially through evolution, such as flopping across land or climbing vertically by undulation or suction. But C. thamicola remains unique in that it can walk with a "diagonal-couplets lateral sequence," a movement style previously thought to be exclusive to tetrapods following the Devonian period during which vertebrates moved from the sea to land.

"From an evolutionary perspective, this is a huge finding," said NJIT Department of Biological Sciences assistant professor Brooke Flammang, via Discovery News. …

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