The coelacanth is probably the most famous fish of the twentieth century. It was widely believed to have died out with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and was only known from fossils. It's odd-shaped tail, thick scales and bony head plates were all signs of a very ancient creature. But in 1938 one swam into a fisherman's net off the coast of South Africa.

Since then, a living colony of more than 300 of these metre-long fish has been found in deep water near the Comoros Islands, northwest of Madagascar. Two individuals from another species were found thousands of kilometres away in Indonesia.

This specimen was caught in the 1960s and would have been deep blue in colour when alive. Its large-lobed fins have earned it the name 'old four legs', which in fact has scientific basis - some scientists believe the coelacanth is distantly related to four-legged land vertebrates. Reports that it is the missing link between these land animals and fish are far-fetched, but it's likely the coelacanth is descended from the same ancestor. Both species are now listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

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  • Title: Coelocanth
  • Date Created: 1960
  • Subject Keywords: Discovering diversity

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