Among life forms that emerged from the primordial soup millions upon millions of years ago and began populating the Earth, there are few that have quite so long a lifespan as fish. Swimming about in the ancient seas of the planet, fish have been a constant of life – and among them, the coelacanth is one of the oldest of the old.
Coelacanths are, according to AustralianMuseum.net.au, members of the sarcopterygii class, a division of underwater creatures that include both lobe-finned fish and tetrapods. It is in this position that they provide a rather interesting link to the movement from the seas to the land, as the physiology of the coelacanth shows some similarity to tetrapods – the creatures that now dominate the earth, those with four limbs. Some scientists believe that coelacanths are a bridging species of sorts between the land and the sea.
The coelacanth is fascinating in that it looks quite different from the average fish, a classification that’s already quite varied. According to DinoFish.com, which specializes in these fish, Coelacanths can grow to more than six feet long, and may live up to 60 years in the wild. They have several pairs of lobe-shaped fins lining their bodies, ending in a long, rounded tail that has another, smaller tail in its middle. Their vertebrae are not fully developed, and they have a fully-functional intercranial joint that allows the animal to lift its head while feeding. No other living animal possesses this feature.
Yes, ‘living’ animal. Despite being considered extinct – it existed more than 65 million years ago – the coelacanth is still alive today, found off the coasts of Africa near the Comoros Islands and near Indonesia, according to NationalGeographic.com. The coelacanth was ‘discovered’ in 1938 by a South African museum curator, providing scientists and archaeologists a great deal more information on this prehistoric fish that has, surprisingly, not changed much over the years.
Unfortunately, coelacanths are not doing well in the wild, thanks primarily to deep sea trawling efforts on humanity’s part. There are estimated to be only around 1,000 coelacanth left, if NationalGeographic.com is to be believed, and it’s consequently considered an endangered species – a poor end for something that survived 65,000,000 years. Fortunately, the coelacanth tastes foul, which will probably protect this fish from being farmed by humans and give it a chance to recover.
More, several zoos worldwide have taken it upon themselves to make coelacanths parts of their collection, providing the best opportunity to see one in the flesh. Doing so will probably prove more instructive than finding a coelacanth fossil that’s been sitting in the ground for millions of years.