Saturday, January 15, 2011

72nd Anniversary of the Rediscovery of Coelocanth

December 22, 2010 marked the 72nd year of the rediscovery of Coelocanth. On this day, exactly 72 years ago, museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer pulled out the Coelacanth-an order previously known only in the fossil record, from a pile of "trash" fish hauled in by a trawler.

Alright I've been describing about the fish in a previous entry back in 2010, and shamelessly called it a "living fossil". Well, I was wrong-I was having a wrong concept about the order of the fish and I carried that concept throughout my adolescenthood.
What Courtenay-Latimer found wasn't a fleshed-out, swimming fossil at all. Coelacanth isn't a single species. It's an order, comprising multiple extinct species, and two living ones. The living Coelacanths aren't the same as the fossil Coelacanths, and there's nothing that looks exactly like a living Coelacanth in the fossil record. The order survived. But it didn't survive untouched by evolution.
Courtenay Latimer with her discovery. Image:
Put it another way: Suppose you are an alien who only knew of Earth mammals via fossil records. You have seen the bones of mammoths so you thought all Elephantidae had gone extinct until you stumbled upon an elephant.
Members of the Elephantidae family. Image:
All in all, this fish is not a living fossil. But still it is an exciting discovery-it proves that there are still discoveries to be made...that we should never stop exploring the world-evolution never stops working....that sometimes we are wrong....and that Coelacanth is indeed a cool fish with odd fins.
Courtenay-Latimer's sketch fo the first, oddly cheerful Coelacanth. Image:


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