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I've always loved living fossils, especially the fish. They are relics of an age long lost, offering us a glimpse of an incredible prehistoric world. Some are enigmas that survived countless extinction events since the Devonian. Others are majestic predators that swam alongside the dinosaurs. Let me present my collection of living fossil fishes from the Mesozoic and before. I will begin with one of the most famous of all - the coelacanth Coelacanth Species: Whiteia woodwardi Age: 252.3 - 251.3 mya | early Triassic Formation: Diego Basin; Middle Sakamena Formation Locality: Ambilobe, Madagascar First appearance: Eoachtinistia foreyi was found 360 million years ago in Australia Paddlefish Species: Protopsephurus liui Age: 125.5 - 112.5 mya | early Cretaceous Formation: Yixian Formation Locality: Lingyuan City, Liaoning First appearance: This is the oldest known species Sturgeon Species: Peipiaosteus fengningensis Age: 125.5 - 120 mya | early Cretaceous Formation: Jehol Biota Locality: Chifeng, Nei Mongol First appearance: Multiple species e.g. Yanosteus longidorsalis found since 125 million years ago in China Pipefish Species: Hipposygnathus sp. Age: 28.1 - 13.8 mya | Oliogocene - Miocene Formation: Monterey Formation Locality: Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA First appearance: Solenostomidae species were found 55.8 million years ago in Italy Note: Although most of this collection only includes fishes that existed since the Mesozoic or later, I made an exception for the pipefish as their order, syngnathiform, existed since the late Cretaceous
Wolfgang Grulke, the author of the well-received book "Heteromorph," has a new title for cephalopod collectors, this time celebrating a lineage that has weathered many storms in the history of life. It's "Nautilus: Beautiful Survivor: 500 Million Years of Evolutionary History." https://www.amazon.com/Nautilus-Beautiful-Survivor-Million-Evolutionary/dp/099297402X A friend just told me about it.
Book Review: "Willey Ley's Exotic Zoology" (Capricorn Books edition, 1966) is composed of revised chapters from three natural history books written across the previous twenty-five years: "The Lungfish, the Dodo, and the Unicorn" (1941); "Dragons in Amber" (1951); "Salamanders and Other Wonders (1955). So far, I have only read "Dragons in Amber" (see my review of it in a previous thread within the Fossil Literature category). Perceptible edits in the four chapters from "Dragons in Amber" seem to be limited to capitalization corrections. Some chapters from the other two books include substantial additional text (as indicated by footnotes postdating the releases of those titles). Following an introduction which offers a brief history of progress in the field of zoology, profiling scientists from Aristotle to Darwin, the 22 chapters are grouped into 5 parts, each a general topic. Part 1 covers mythical beings that had or appeared to have had a basis in reality. Unicorns, dragons and men abominable or otherwise are discussed along with a surprising account of how the unassuming barnacle came to be understood. Part Two is devoted to extinct animals with chapters on Triassic reptiles, ichthyosaurs, mammoths, and early flying vertebrates. Notes on the fossil deposits of Holzmaden and Solnhofen are provided to the reader as well. Part Three attempts to unravel various mysteries of the sea such as sea monsters and a certain gigantic nut considered as the most valuable collectible among the super-wealthy across the 17th century. Part Four visits far-flung islands with reports on particular extinct or near-extinct animals or legendary plants. The reader learns about the moa, the dodo, the kiwi, giant tortoises, and the story of a man-eating tree. Part Five looks at living fossils: modern organisms belonging to ancient, much more diverse groups and surviving on the last outposts of a once vast geographic range. The playpus, tuatara, lungfishes, and the coelacanth are among those studied. I enjoyed reading this book. Ley clearly loved natural mysteries and oddities and apparently enjoyed digging deeply into the legends and finely tracing the backstories which were sometimes peopled with historic figures. He reveals the all-too-human tendency to embellish an already-interesting tale. It dates back at least as far as human history remembers and lives today in our books and movies "based on a true story." The reader learns that the graceful unicorn was just a rhino many edits later (much to the chagrin of Marco Polo) and some mysteries remain unsolved after the last page, including that of an unusual fish scale obtained by a Tampa souvenir shopowner (p. 429). The author also seemed to have been amused by the misinterpretations overcome in the path to the current understanding of the earth both in the sense of modern geography (islands with more than one name in more than one language) and the zoology (animals with more than one name in more than one language). In his narrative Ley shows he was comfortable with a few languages as he weaves French expressions, his native German (and some Latin) into the English text. Furthermore, he did not shy away from quoting passages from 17th century English works (legible to the average American as a given sentence is often just a few vowels or a word once removed from modern usage). He seemed to have been intrigued as much by the origin of some of the terms used in the storytelling as in the path of particular histories. This book is not abundantly illustrated and limited to line drawings but the selection of topics would appeal to many on the forum and the writing style is casual. Ley teaches science here but the instruction flows within field trips through time and across the world. I did not get a feeling that the text could have used additional visual aid at any point. While the book is nearly fifty years old and some of the information may be dated, the reader will find value in some of the accounts - perspectives on how the world was observed by laymen and scientists in previous decades and centuries. Furthering its role as a time capsule this book reveals plate tectonics as relatively new to science. It came to be a widely-accepted theory only in the 1960's. Alfred Wegener had proposed that the continents were once joined together earlier in the 20th century but it was not until the late 50's that case-closing evidence was accumulating rapidly. The various chapters were written across that time. Ley observed (p. 268): "...these same more recent ideas encourage the concept that the continents are not solidly anchored to the earth but may move. When such movements take place, the reasoning runs, portions of the continent may become detached and be left behind, as Madagascar looks like a piece of Africa that was left behind..." That passage seems to have been written at a time when continental drift was gaining acceptance but perhaps just a few years before seafloor spreading and other lines of evidence rendered it undeniable. Ley recognized the changing tide in geology and seemed to be rolling with it since previous explanations of continental development sounded less likely. For decades Ley was more widely-known as an early rocket researcher and popular science writer in the fields of rockets and space travel. Sadly, he died less than a month before the triumph of the Apollo moon landing in July of 1969.