Marine Biology

The Coelancanth

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The coelacanth is the common name for the order of fish that includes the oldest living line of Sarcopterygii known to date. The Sarcopterygii are fleshy finned or lobe finned fish. This fish was believed to be extinct until quite recently. It was believed to have become extinct over 65 million years ago.

This fish are related to the lungfish and the tetrapods.They were considered by experts to be the missing link between the tetrapods and fish until they were rediscovered living off the east coast of South Africa. They were found off the Chalumn River or what is now known as Tyalomnqa in the year 1938. It was discovered by a South African museum curator.

The coelacanth are known as a Lazarus taxon. This is what a species that seems to dissappear from the earth's fossil records only to reappear much later is referred to. It is a reference to the Biblical story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead.

This fish is sought after by museums and collectors. It has no real commercial value. It has an oily flesh that has a foul taste and is virtually uneatable so it has no value as a food for human consumption.

The coelacanth has some unique physical features. It has a small heart that is shaped like a small tube. The kidneys are fused into one organ. The brain occupies only 1.5% of the brain cavity, with the rest being filled by fat. The coelacanth has an "extra tail" located at the end of the main tail.

Even though there are only two known living species of the coelacanth in existance today, they were once a large family and a very successful species. They left behind many fossil records.

This somewhat unattractive species can live up to 60 years in the wild and can grow up to an impressive 6.5 feet long. It can reach a weight of around 200 pounds. It is about the size of an average human male when mature.

Coelanths are elusive deep sea creature and can survive at depths of up to 2300 feet. While an exact count of the coelanth is unknown, scientists estimate that only about 1000 of these big fish are in existance today.

There are many scientists who believe that the unique characteristics of the coelanths show an early step in the evolution of fish to the first terrestial four legged animals such as the amphibians.

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