What is a Coelacanth?

By | May 9th, 2011|Animal News Stories, Educational Activities, Main Page|0 Comments

Ancient Fish Question Swims into View

Whilst on a school visit the other day, one of the Everything Dinosaur team members was explaining how the natural world can surprise us and was illustrating his point by telling the story of the re-discovery of the Coelacanth.  Having explained how this strange fish was re-discovered by science in the last Century, the question was asked what is a Coelacanth?

Coelacanths belong to an ancient class of fish the Sarcopterygians (lobe-finned fishes).  These fish have muscles and large bones at the base of their fins and it was once thought that Coelacanths used their fleshy fins to “walk” on the seabed, providing scientists with a link to those vertebrates that were the first back-boned animals to walk on land.

The Coelacanths were thought to have become extinct approximately 66 million years ago, however, in 1938, a trawler fishing off the Chalumna river estuary (South Africa), caught a strange looking fish and once the catch had been returned to port, Marjorie Courtney-Latimer, the curator of the nearby East London museum was notified and it was from her sketches and information that led to this specimen being identified as a Coelacanth.  It was not until 1952 that a second Coelacanth specimen was captured.

The two known species that survive to day belong to the genus Latimeria, named in honour of Marjorie Courtney-Latimer.

An Illustration of the Coelacanth

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Safari Ltd have produced an excellent model of a Coelacanth as part of their “Wild Safari Dinos” series, to view this model (Wild Safari Dinos Coelacanth)  and the other creatures in this range and dinosaur models: Wild Safari Prehistoric World Models and Figures.