Yes, we Coelacanth!


33 Responses to “Yes, we Coelacanth!”

  1. Mazoola says:

    Back in ’72 (or was it ’74?) I experienced an early taste of the divine while wandering the British Museum. I came to a couple stairs that led to sort of an alcove or antechamber: round, perhaps, or maybe hexagonal, with an obviously officially closed door on the far side, flanked by two immense (200-300 gallons+) aquaria. It seemed to be a pretty low-traffic area, what with it being a dead end and all. Wondered what sort of display the museum thought proper to relegate to such a back-water, I stepped into the alcove. I have no idea what was in one of the tanks, because the other (filled with formalin or something similarly toxic) contained a coelacanth — a real, dead, somewhat bleached-out-looking coelacanth, wired into place within the tank, AND MERE INCHES AWAY FROM ME! For a kid whose favorite book a few years prior had been Gardner Soule’s “The Maybe Monsters,” it was like being in the presence of great nobility or celebrity, albeit pickled — almost as if it was Queen Elizabeth or Joey Heatherton lying there, grey and marinating, in front of me. I don’t know how long I stood there, staring at this rather poorly preserved specimen of lobe-finned wonder, but it could never have been long enough…

  2. MadRat says:

    Well… *sniffle* at least I’ve still got my metasequoia glyptostroboides *sniffle*

  3. entheo says:

    Maggie, when I was in Japan, I discovered a collection of Palaeozoic Fossil Plushies in the National Museum Of Nature and Science at Ueno. So eventually I found a shop that has the whole range, and it includes some Coelacanth plushies! (along with a large range of Devonian fish, and “living fossils”)

    and also Palaeozic Invertebrates (and some “living fossils” as well)

    So if you want some Coelacanth love (or mayby Johnny Coelacanth does) get a plush Coelacanth.
    Now I hope this is ok and not considered against the Comment Guidelines.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What’s the best way to prepare the Coelacanth? Baked? Grilled? With lemon and olive oil? I wonder how they taste?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Loving the fact that sometimes there is “hard” science here! And coelacanths are really interesting. How nice that they have a special day.

    So how does one celebrate “Coelacanth Day”?

  6. Johnny Coelacanth says:

    Hey, that Nova interactive thing says that brain weight is negligible in adult specimens. Crap. I hope this doesn’t get out.

  7. Anonymous says:

    To put it in an appropriate time-scale, it’s as if you’d assumed that the last dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, and then somebody gave you a dead pigeon.

    It wouldn’t instantly look identical to a dinosaur fossil, but you’d see the similarities pretty soon once you took it to bits.

    Only it’s actually more interesting that that because it represents a line of primitive fish that diverged from every other vertebrate a very long time ago.

  8. wgmleslie says:

    Maggie, 72 decimal is a nice round 60 in duodecimal. Excellent article — I had never really stopped and thought about the implications of the phrase “living fossil” before.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ms. Courtenay-Latimer’s book (bio?) that tells the story of how she became interested in science and went on to find a coelacanth and then try to convince the male-dominated scientific community of the period that it was real and that she wasn’t just a ‘silly woman’ is a great read.
    I’ve loved coelacanths ever since I was a little kid, both because they’re weirdly prehistoric-looking and because they symbolize my secret hope that someday, somewhere, someone will rediscover a DINOSAUR!
    It could happen! No, really!
    Thanks for taking the time to shout out coelacanth day, Maggie.

    • JonS says:

      @ Anon #6:
      “they symbolize my secret hope that someday, somewhere, someone will rediscover a DINOSAUR!”

      Look up Tuatara. I’ve patted one of the little buggers :D

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m still waiting for someone to discover living trilobites. Now that would be cool.

  11. gwailo_joe says:

    (sung to the tune of Oh Christmas tree/Tannenbaum)

    “Oh Coelacanth, Oh Coelacanth
    As lovely as a Rembrandt!

    Your lumpy head so chitinous
    Your ancient visage frightenous

    Oh Coelacanth, Oh Coelacanth
    Glad you’re not extinct, I Am!”

    Happy holidays you Living Fossils. . .

  12. Derek C. F. Pegritz says:

    I wish I could have a coelacanth in an aquarium. A really BIG aquarium, of course.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Maggie, of all the new (ish) Boing Boing regulars, you are tops. I had no idea how much I needed to see a Coelacanth blog post today..

  14. Anonymous says:

    Maggie, it’s so neat to know that you too learned biology from Bob Jones biology textbooks!

    I didn’t learn about the actual evolutionary processes of biology until an incredible “Introduction to Biological Anthropology” course in college. At the end of that class, I approached the professor and told him how amazing it was, and how much it had meant to me, and he surprised me by explaining that he had also been raised fundamentalist, and had accordingly been kept a similar distance from modern biology.

  15. MelSkunk says:

    “As of today, it’s been 72 years* since humans scientists figured out… ”

    Fixed it for you. I’ve also heard anecdotally that coelacanths taste bad.

  16. Wolfrick says:

    Check out “Coelacanth Rescue Mission” who have distributed “deep release kits” and t-shirts in the Comoro Islands to try to educate and assist fishermen to release the coelacanth bycatch back into the depths so they don’t die of stress from being brought to the surface.
    Not sure how good they’d taste, but this is one species I’d want to catch-and-release.
    ps. I’d love a Coelacanth Rescue Mission t-shirt, Santa!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Nice post, Maggie, and thanks for the shout-out!

    And, to bring things up to speed, coelacanths from the past 65 million years *have* been found. The fossils come from Israel and Sweden. (The gap in the fossil record is now less than 23 million years!) Unfortunately they have not been extensively described and the references are hard to find, but those who want to know more can track down:

    Goldsmith, N. F. & Yanai-Inbar, I. 1997. Coelacanthid in Israel’s Early Miocene? Latimeria tests Schaeffer’s theory. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 17 (supp. 3), 49A.

    Ørvig, T. 1986. A vertebrate bone from the Swedish Paleocene. Geologiska Föreningens i Stockholm Förhandlingar 108, 139-141.

  18. mr.skeleton says:

    The title of this post makes me smile and reminds me how much I enjoy your posts, Maggie!

  19. singingdragon says:

    @ #4 Anon

    Coelecanths are emphatically NOT “diverged from every other vertebrate a very long time ago”. They’re actually interesting because they’re more closely related to tetrapods than they are to other fish.

    You can see the relationship with a close look at the skeletal anatomy of the pectoral fins. While Actinopterigians (most fish you’ve heard of) have fins shaped like a fan, Sarcopterigians like coelecanths, lungfish, and tetrapods have a narrow base that branches further down the limb. In tetrapods that structure became the arm bones, branching into the wrist, hand, and finger bones.

    If you want something that diverged from all other vertebrates a very long time ago, you want hagfish and lampreys.

  20. Mister44 says:

    I heart Coelacanth.

  21. Cassandra says:

    Apparently, Colecanth tastes oily and disgusting. That’s why they found it–it was a trash fish in a pile of other fish and they were apparently only good for using the scales to patch bike tires.

    • California Will says:

      A big part of the bad taste comes from the fact that they concentrate urea in their tissues as a method of osmoregulation.

      • voiceinthedistance says:

        “A big part of the bad taste comes from the fact that they concentrate urea in their tissues as a method of osmoregulation.”

        Mmmmmm. Gout sticks! No wonder the beer batter met its match with fried coelacanth.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think we read the same book in second grade.

  22. gwailo_joe says:

    While I appreciate that the designation of ‘living fossil’ may be incorrect; such a memorable buzzword will not die an easy death:

    Just now, clicking through an article about new fossils in China:

    They have to reference Big C as a ‘LF’. Oh well. . .Long Live The Coelacanth!

  23. Cassandra says:

    I met the guy who makes these at a sheepshearing festival about a year ago–his colecanth keychains are pretty awesome.

  24. Calimecita says:

    Cool topic as always!

    Maggie, have you heard anything about the way in which the second species of coelacanth was discovered and described for science?
    I teach a Vertebrate Biology course and we always tell the story of the coelacanths to our students. But it was only last year that I began to be interested in the story of Latimeria menadoensis – apparently the people who authored the species “stole” it from the actual discoverers… at least that’s the version I found here, and certainly Mark Erdmann and his coauthors don’t seem too happy with the original paper here.
    Any chance we could get the inside scoop on this?

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