Information about the lobe-finned fish, Coelacanth

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Dinosaur Jungle   >   Other Prehistoric Animals   >   Coelacanth

Coelacanth



Coelacanth

Scientific Classification
  Kingdom Animalia
  Phylum Chordata
  Class Sarcopterygii
  Subclass Actinistia
  Infraclass Coelacanthimorpha
  Order Coelacanthiformes
Coelacanths are an order of lobe-finned fish related to lungfish and tetrapods. They first appeared in the Devonian period, and for many years, were believed to have gone extinct at the Cretaceous period. However, a living specimen was found in a fishing net brought ashore in South Africa in 1938 (and since then other specimens have brought ashore at a number of locations around the Indian Ocean).

Coelacanth were very successful and widespread from the Devonian until the Cretaceous. Scientists now think that what happened is that they suffered a near total extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. that wiped out all shallow-water species, and left only hard-to-find deep-water species (fossils are rarely lifted from, or recovered from, deep-water locations). Because of their apparent disappearance from the fossil record for millions of years, and their later discovery alive, Coelacanths are known as a "Lazarus taxon".

One interesting aside about Coelacanths is that they are offered described in the popular media as having been unchanged for millions of years, but this is not the case. Neither of the two currently known living species, nor any other members of their genus, have been found in the fossil record.

Coelacanth Timeline:



Coelacanth is a lobe-finned fish that first appeared during the Devonian

Coelacanth is a lobe-finned fish that first appeared during the Devonian


Related Information & Resources


See Also

Coelacanth Books


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A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth
By Samantha Weinberg

Harper Perennial
Released: 2001-02-06
Paperback (220 pages)

A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth
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Product Description:

The coelacanth (see-lo-canth) is no ordinary fish. Five feet long, with luminescent eyes and limb like fins, this bizarre creature, presumed to be extinct, was discovered in 1938 by an amateur icthyologist who recognized it from fossils dating back 400 million years. The discovery was immediately dubbed the "greatest scientific find of the century," but the excitement that ensued was even more incredible. This is the entrancing story of that most rare and precious fish -- our own great-uncle forty million times removed.

The Annotated Old Fourlegs: The Updated Story of the Coelacanth
By Mike Bruton

University Press of Florida
Released: 2018-02-01
Paperback (328 pages)

The Annotated Old Fourlegs: The Updated Story of the Coelacanth
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The latest episode in the greatest fish discovery ever made

"The appearance of the Coelacanth was like a gigantic tidal wave which washed me violently from my path, held me in its grip, carried me along, and set my feet on a quest that dominated some of the best years of my life."--JLB Smith, Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth

When scientist JLB Smith published Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth in 1956, he created an international sensation. A dramatic account of the discovery of a creature thought to have been extinct for 65 million years, the book brought science into the living rooms of thousands. It was published in six English editions and translated into ten foreign languages. The Annotated Old Fourlegs brings this incredible story back to life for today’s readers. Smith's famous account begins with the finding of a strange fish off the coast of South Africa by a local fisherman. As large as a person, the fish had fins like arms and vicious snapping jaws. Smith became certain that what had been caught was the legendary coelacanth, previously known only through fossils. The book follows Smith’s obsessive drive to track down other specimens and to learn more about this extraordinary fish that has lived on Earth from the era of the dinosaurs to modern times. The Annotated Old Fourlegs features a facsimile reprint of the original book with extensive margin notes, providing insights on JLB Smith, updates on coelacanth research, and comments on the coelacanth's influence on contemporary culture. Mike Bruton, an ichthyologist who has dedicated his life to continuing the pioneering studies begun by Smith, provides a new introduction and concluding chapters that bring the coelacanth story up to date.
Fossil Fish Found Alive: Discovering the Coelacanth (Carolrhoda Photo Books)
By Sally M. Walker

Brand: Carolrhoda Books
Released: 2002-01-01
Library Binding (64 pages)

Fossil Fish Found Alive: Discovering the Coelacanth (Carolrhoda Photo Books)
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Seventy million years ago, deep in the ocean, a bluish fish hovers in a cave. Like the dinosaurs, the fish's kind is about to become extinct. Or is it? Millions of years later, a bizarre blue fish is caught near East London, South Africa. To the museum curator who first studies it, it looks like an ancient fossil fish. But it can't be. The fossil fishes have all been extinct for eons... So begins the story of the coelacanth, a fish that survived the wave of extinction that killed the dinosaurs. From underwater quests for hidden populations to the dissection of the coelacanth's unique organs, this gripping scientific drama brings to life the thrill of discovery.

Coelacanth: The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told (The Aquitaine Reluctant Readers Series) (Volume 2)
By Mary Jo Nickum

Aquitaine Ltd
Paperback (78 pages)

Coelacanth: The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told (The Aquitaine Reluctant Readers Series) (Volume 2)
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The primitive-looking coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) was thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But its discovery in 1938 by a South African museum curator on a local fishing trawler fascinated the world and ignited a debate about how this bizarre lobe-finned fish fits into the evolution of land animals. There are only two known species of coelacanths: one that lives near the Comoros Islands off the east coast of Africa, and one found in the waters of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Many scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the coelacanth represent an early step in the evolution of fish to terrestrial four-legged animals like amphibians.
Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth
By Keith Stewart Thomson

W. W. Norton & Company
Released: 2014-02-17
Kindle Edition (255 pages)

Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth
 
Product Description:

"An engrossing tale of obsession, adventure and scientific reasoning." —Betty Ann Kevles, Los Angeles Times


In the winter of 1938, a fishing boat by chance dragged from the Indian Ocean a fish thought extinct for 70 million years. It was a coelacanth, which thrived concurrently with dinosaurs and pterodactyls—an animal of major importance to those who study the history of vertebrate life.



Living Fossil describes the life and habitat of the coelcanth and what scientists have learned about it during fifty years of research. It is an exciting and very human story, filled with ambitious and brilliant people, that reveals much about the practice of modern science.
The Search Beneath the Sea: The Story of the Coelacanth
By J. L. B. Smith

Muriwai Books
Released: 2017-07-31
Kindle Edition (284 pages)

The Search Beneath the Sea: The Story of the Coelacanth
 
Product Description:
ONE OF THE GREAT BOOKS OF SCIENTIFIC ADVENTURE…STRANGER THAN FICTION

One of the most sensational discoveries in natural history, told by the ichthyologist who was directly involved in its first capture off the South African coast in 1938. Prior to this, the fish, although known to scientists, was thought to have become extinct at least fifty million years ago. There was much professional scepticism that it was indeed a coelacanth and Professor Smith had many battles ahead of him before proof could be found.

A remarkable story.
The Amazing Coelacanth
By Mike Bruton

Penguin Random House South Africa
Released: 2018-07-24
Paperback (64 pages)

The Amazing Coelacanth
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In 1938 a 400-million-year-old fish – known only from fossil remains and thought to have become extinct around 66 million years ago – was discovered living off the shores of southern Africa.

This fascinating book for younger readers tells the story of the coelacanth – what it is, what makes it special, how it was discovered, where it evolved, how it gives live birth, how and what it eats, and what eats it! With multiple illustrations and photographs and interesting text, this book will be an inspiration to a new generation of ichthyologists, palaeontologists, divers, and anyone with an interest in the natural world.
Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters
By Robert Sabuda

Candlewick Press
Released: 2006-04-11
Hardcover

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters
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  • Candlewick Press MA
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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water! Celebrate the New York Times best-selling 3-D look at prehistoric creatures of the deep.

While dinosaurs patrolled the lands, massive prehistoric sharks, giant scorpions, and colossal squid cruised the ancient oceans — most with just one thing in mind: eat or be eaten. Pop-up masters Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart explore the prehistoric underwater world where monsters like megalodon ruled the waves. Full of captivating facts and more than thirty-five breathtaking pop-ups, this incredible volume is sure to astonish and amaze everyone from budding marine biologists to confirmed landlubbers.
The Fishy Smiths: A Biography of JLB and Margaret Smith
By Mike Bruton

Penguin Random House South Africa
Released: 2019-01-03
Paperback (344 pages)

The Fishy Smiths: A Biography of JLB and Margaret Smith
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The discovery of the living coelacanth – one of the greatest biological finds of the twentieth century – will forever be linked with the name of JLB Smith.

An intense, irascible, eccentric man, JLB (as he was widely known) and his wife Margaret were remarkable South African scientists whose extraordinary contributions changed the course of the biological sciences. This, the first biography of JLB and Margaret Smith, traces their formative years and serendipitous meeting, leading up to the discovery of the coelacanth, and the tumultuous years that followed.

Illustrated with images of their fascinating lives, as well as a 16-page color section, this lively account is essential reading for anyone interested in the excitement of science and its relevance to our everyday lives.

· Traces their formative years and serendipitous meeting, leading up to the discovery of the coelacanth, and the tumultuous years that followed.
· Details their punitive work ethic, eccentric and rugged lifestyle, and their astonishingly productive lives
· A story awash with adventure, travel, discovery, risk-taking, near-death experiences – and their extraordinary contribution to science.


Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements vii
Picture credits ix
Foreword x
Preface xiii
Southern Africa (map) xviii
East coast of Africa (map) xix

1. JLB Smith’s childhood: Karoo to Bishops 1
2. Young whippersnapper: Studies and pranks in Stellenbosch 9
3. Chemistry rules: From student to senior lecturer 15
4. Organic chemistry: Building a career in Grahamstown 21
5. Henriette Pienaar: First marriage, and raising a young family 29
6. Buchu to blacktails: Transition to ichthyology 35
7. Margaret Mary Macdonald: A new lifetime partner 51
8. Agony and ecstasy: Dramatic discovery of the first coelacanth 63
9. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer: Pioneering museum director 89
10. William Smith: Larger than life 96
11. Room to breathe: The difficult war years, and a new beginning 109
12. Grit and determination: The epic East African expeditions 117
13. Sea and shore dangers: Taking risks 134
14. Bombing and poisoning fishes: Effective but controversial short cuts 142
15. Jubilation: Publication of The Sea Fishes of Southern Africa 153
16. The second coelacanth: ‘It was more than worth … all that long strain’ 167
17. Mending bridges: International collaboration on the coelacanth 191
18. Growth of a legend: Significance of the coelacanth 201
19. After the coelacanth: Consolidation and renewal 207
20. Fishy correspondence – One man’s fish is another man’s poisson 219
21. Old Fourlegs – The best fish book in the world 230
22. Bigger fish to fry: Team building, and the endgame 238
23. Tragedy and recognition: Death of JLB and a flood of accolades 247
24. Lean as biltong: JLB under the microscope 256
25. Margaret’s metamorphosis: Caterpillar to butterfly 271
26. Triumph: Birth of the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology 277
27. Gone fishing: Ichthyology thrives in Grahamstown 285
28. Fauna and Flora: Reconnecting in their dotage 298
29. Pride and joy: The Smiths’ amazing legacy 307
Postscript 324

Acronyms 326
References and further reading 327
Index 337
The Coelacanth: The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told (The Aquitaine Reluctant Readers Series Book 2)
By Mary Jo Nickum

Aquitaine Ltd
Released: 2018-05-01
Kindle Edition

The Coelacanth: The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told (The Aquitaine Reluctant Readers Series Book 2)
 
Product Description:
The primitive-looking coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) was thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But its discovery in 1938 by a South African museum curator on a local fishing trawler fascinated the world and ignited a debate about how this bizarre lobe-finned fish fits into the evolution of land animals.

There are only two known species of coelacanths: one that lives near the Comoros Islands off the east coast of Africa, and one found in the waters of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Many scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the coelacanth represent an early step in the evolution of fish to terrestrial four-legged animals like amphibians.


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