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Amazing discovery inside “living fossil”

65-million-year-old fossil of a Coelacanth Photo by Haplochromis [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers studying the Coelacanth, a mysterious living fossil, discover something amazing.

Thought extinct, the deep-ocean-dwelling creature was found alive and well when fishermen caught one in 1938. The bizarre fish has a number of unusual qualities. It has matching pairs of lobe fins that stick out like legs and even move like the legs of a four-legged animal. It has a hinged skull which can widen it’s mouth to eat larger prey. It has an electrosensory organ in it’s snout that may help it hunt.

Now we find that it once had lungs!

Living fossil swims with a diver Photo by Mordecai 1998 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

An article in Discover News tells how researchers exploring the body of a Coelacanth have found what appears to be an obsolete lung. Humans have an appendix, an organ that seems to serve no real purpose for us, but might have been important long ago. Similarly, it appears that this fish may have once used lungs to breath air and that the organ has faded back over time.

This suggests that the Coelacanth was once an air-breather that evolved to become a creature of the deep. This may be what saved this species while other creatures of the period were wiped out, possibly by a single event.

Earth’s history is a  strange array of creatures, and discoveries like this just fuel the imagination. Will we ever get a clear picture of it all without a time machine? Perhaps not. However, each clue shows us that it was all weirder than we thought. Weird is good!

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