It’s time to talk about a weird animal again here on Weird Biology (who’da thunk), and what better way to begin the new year than with an inspirational survivor to motivate us all with its sheer bullheaded tenacity?
You see, this animal has been around a very, very, very, VERY long time. It’s-
and it’s your grandma.
(It’s pronounced ‘SEE-la-kanth’, before we get much further.)
Coelacanths are the oldest form of lobe-finned fishes still on the planet. Their relatives first appeared some 400 million years ago, and made themselves famous by being the very first vertebrates to wiggle onto dry land. (They immediately wiggled right back into the water, as they had forgotten to evolve lungs first.)
These fishes later evolved those weirdly buff fins into actual legs and developed into the first true land animals, though tragically lacking the Coelacanth’s roguish sense of style.
(My, there’s a lot of stumpy little legs in this picture. Adorable!)
While these lobe-finned fish did go on to become literally all land-dwelling vertebrates ever INCLUDING YOU, the Coelacanth was content to retain its fishy shape and continue on as it always had. For 400 million years. They probably never even noticed all those major extinction events. Meteor who?
(It’s coelaCAN, not coelaCAN’T.)
Today, Coelacanths are still more closely related to you than they are to most other fish. Think of it as the weird cousin that never gets invited to mammal family reunions. The Coelacanth’s relationship to land vertebrates has long been known from fossils, but Science believed it had gone extinct sometime in the Cretaceous period. Which was more than 60 million years ago. So imagine Science’s surprise when a live Coelacanth was pulled up by a fishing trawler in 1938, off the coast of South Africa!
This makes them the first ever example of a Lazarus Taxon (which is an absolutely incredible phrase that would make a darn good name for a rock band), meaning it’s an evolutionary line we thought was extinct until we discovered it still running around somewhere like it owned the place. Today, the Coelacanth is known to live in the Indian and South African oceans where they thrive in deep water far away from the prying eyes of their nosy hairless ape relatives. They’re mostly active at night and can grow to be 6 and a half feet long, and live more than 60 years. They don’t have much personality but BOY are they tenacious.
Coelacanths mostly drift with the current, eating whatever happens to pass by that’s smaller than they are. this just goes to show that laziness does pay off in the long run! (It’s a valid survival strategy, MOM.)
Coelacanths don’t have many natural predators, as they taste completely disgusting. Sharks are pretty much the only predator who will give it a try, but sharks also eat outboard motors and license plates so that... really isn’t saying much.
All that aside, these ancient fish can motivate us to face the challenges of the new year. Just remember, if a weird fish with weird stumpy fins can survive for 400 million years on the benefits of laziness and being kind of weird and disgusting, so can you! And I mean that in a very caring way.
Just remember kids, it’s coelaCAN! NOT CEOLACAN’T!
1- Wikimedia Commons
2- Dave Souza, Wikimedia Commons
3- Mordecai 1998, Wikimedia Commons