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Coelacanth: Wikis


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Fossil range: Devonian–Cretaceous  (but extant)
specimen of Latimeria chalumnae in the Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria (length: 170 cm - weight: 60 kg). This specimen was caught on 18 October 1974, next to Salimani/Selimani (Grand Comoro, Comoro Islands) 11°48′40.7″S 43°16′3.3″E / 11.811306°S 43.267583°E / -11.811306; 43.267583.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sarcopterygii
Subclass: Actinistia
Infraclass: Coelacanthimorpha
Order: Coelacanthiformes
Berg, 1937

See text.

Coelacanth (pronounced /ˈsiːləkænθ/, adaptation of Modern Latin Cœlacanthus "hollow spine", from Greek κοῖλ-ος koilos "hollow" + ἄκανθ-α akantha "spine", referring to the hollow spines of the fins) is the common name for an order of fish that includes the oldest living lineage of gnathostomata known to date.



The coelacanths, which are related to lungfishes and tetrapods, were believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period. They were considered the "missing link" between the fish and the tetrapods until the first Latimeria specimen was found off the east coast of South Africa, off the Chalumna River in 1938. They are, therefore, a Lazarus taxon. Since 1938, Latimeria chalumnae have been found in the Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, and in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. The second extant species, L. menadoensis, was described from Sulawesi, Indonesia in 1999 by Pouyaud et al.[1] based on a specimen discovered by Erdmann in 1998[2] and deposited in Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). The first specimen of this species was only photographed at a local market by Arnaz and Mark Erdmann before being bought by a shopper. The coelacanth has no real commercial value, apart from being coveted by museums and private collectors. As a food fish the coelacanth is almost worthless as its tissues exude oils even when dead, imparting the flesh with a foul flavor.[3]

Natural history

Fossil of Axelrodichthys araripensis, an extinct coelacanthiform

They first appeared in the fossil record in the Middle Devonian.[4] Prehistoric species of coelacanth lived in many bodies of water in Late Paleozoic and Mesozoic times.

Coelacanths are lobe-finned fish with the pectoral and anal fins on fleshy stalks supported by bones, and the tail or caudal fin diphycercal (divided into three lobes), the middle one of which also includes a continuation of the notochord. Coelacanths have modified cosmoid scales, which are thinner than true cosmoid scales. Coelacanths also have a special electroreceptive device called a rostral organ in the front of the skull, which probably helps in prey detection. The small device also could help the balance of the fish, as electrolocation could be a factor in the way this fish moves.


This fish has some unique traits among vertebrates:[5]

  • The kidneys are fused into a single organ, which is located on the floor of the abdomen instead of just under the backbone.
  • A trilobate (three-lobed) caudal fin, with upper and lower halves separated by a small secondary tail.
  • A tiny heart that is more-or-less a straight tube
  • A brain that occupies only 1.5% of the braincase, the rest of the cavity is filled with fat.
  • The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins set on muscular lobes.

Fossil record

Undina penicillata

Although now represented by only two known living species, as a group the coelacanths were once very successful with many genera and species that left an abundant fossil record from the Devonian to the end of the Cretaceous period, at which point they apparently suffered a nearly complete extinction. Before the living specimens were discovered, it was believed by some that the coelacanth was a "missing link" between the fish and the tetrapods. It is often claimed that the coelacanth has remained unchanged for millions of years, but, in fact, the living species and even genus are unknown from the fossil record. The most likely reason for the gap is the taxon having become extinct in shallow waters. Deep-water fossils are only rarely lifted to levels where paleontologists can recover them, making most deep-water taxa disappear from the fossil record.


The fossils of the coelacanth are believed to be indicative of the order's place as a transitional evolutionary link due to the presence of leg-like structures. Extant specimens of two species of the genus Latimeria have been discovered, allowing study of evolutionary changes within the Coelacanthiforme order. [6]


Latimeria menadoensis, Tokyo Sea Life Park (Kasai Rinkai Suizokuen), Japan
In Late Devonian vertebrate speciation, descendants of pelagic lobe-finned fish – like Eusthenopteron – exhibited a sequence of adaptations: Descendants also included pelagic lobe-finned fish such as coelacanth species.
Latimeria chalumnae model in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, showing the coloration in life

Subclass Coelacanthimorpha (Actinistia) are sometimes used to designate the group of Sarcopterygian fish that contains the Coelacanthiformes. The following is a classification of known coelacanth genera and families:[7]

Class Sarcopterygii
Subclass Coelacanthimorpha

See also


  1. ^ Pouyaud, L., S. Wirjoatmodjo, I. Rachmatika, A. Tjakrawidjaja, R. Hadiaty, and W. Hadie (1999). "Une nouvelle espèce de coelacanthe: preuves génétiques et morphologiques". Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des sciences Paris, Sciences de la vie / Life Sciences 322: 261–267. doi:10.1016/S0764-4469(99)80061-4. 
  2. ^ Erdmann, M. V., R. L. Caldwell, and M. K. Moosa (1998). "Indonesian ' king of the sea ' discovered". Nature 395: 335. 
  3. ^ Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  4. ^ A fossil coelacanth jaw found in a stratum datable 410 mya that was collected near Buchan in Victoria, Australia's East Gippsland, currently holds the record for oldest coelacanth; it was given the name Eoactinistia foreyi when it was published in September 2006. [1]
  5. ^ The Coelacanth - a Morphological Mixed Bag
  6. ^ Fisherman Catches 'living fossil' - BBC News
  7. ^ Nelson, Joseph S. (2006). Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0471250317

External links

Simple English

Fossil range: Devonian – Recent
File:Latimeria Chalumnae - Coelacanth -
Latimeria chalumnae, Natural History Museum, Vienna (170 cm; 60 kg). Caught 18 October 1974, off Grand Comoro, Comoro Islands.
11°48′40.7″S 43°16′3.3″E / 11.811306°S 43.267583°E / -11.811306; 43.267583.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sarcopterygii
Subclass: Coelacanthimorpha
Order: Coelacanthiformes
Berg, 1937

See text.

A Coelacanth is a fish that lives in the Indian Ocean; it is also called the lobe-finned fish. Coelacanths are very rare today: only two species survive from this once plentiful group. Their fossil record goes back 400 million years, before any land vertebrates had evolved.

Coelacanth is pronounced 'see-la-canth'


The Coelacanth is the only living example of the otherwise fossil Coelacanth fishes. They are also the closest link between fish and the first amphibian creatures which made the transition from sea to land in the Devonian period (408-362 million years ago). It was thought to have been extinct for 80 million years until one was caught alive off the east African coast in 1938. It is probably the best-known Lazarus taxon.That such a creature could have existed unrecorded for so long is rare, but perhaps the cold depths of the West Indian ocean at which the Coelacanth thrives, and the small number of predators it has, may have helped the species survive for so long. Its disgusting taste means that fishermen did not deliberately try to catch it, that is, before scientists started offering rewards.


The Coelacanth was first discovered in 1938 by Marjorie Courtenay Latimer, the curator of a small museum in the South African port town of East London, as she was visiting a fisherman who would let her search through his boat's catch for interesting specimens. The second species was found off the Comoros islands in the Indonesian archipelago in 1952. The largest specimen was about 1.8 metres (~6ft).

The population living off Tanzania is threatened by Japanese trawlers, but the fish is not edible. They are simply caught in trawls by accident. More than 20 have died this way, and their total numbers cannot be large.[1][2][3]


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