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Coelacanth: Survival of the Dullest

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A new fossil species of coelacanth was discovered in Canada.  Scientists think from its tail fin shape that it was a fast swimmer–perhaps a hunter.  Sadly, it was a “spectacular failure” in evolution.  The luck of the evolutionary draw went to today’s slow-moving, docile species.

PhysOrg states that the new fossil “rewrites the history of ancient fish.”  The discoverers named it Rebellatrix, calling it a “rebel” that “does everything a coelacanth should not do.”  Modern coelacanths have broad tails and are fairly docile, but the discoverers think that the forked tail in Rebellatrix indicates it was a fast swimmer with a muscular tail fin.  National Geographic pointed out what this means to evolutionary theory:

In general, the discovery “shows how plastic and flexible evolution can be,” said John Long, a coelacanth expert at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California.

It really shakes things up “that coelacanths can suddenly deviate what they’ve been doing for 200 million years and occupy a lifestyle that’s radically different from other coelacanths.”

Still, the fossil record shows that the slow-moving version of the coelacanth ultimately won out, while the speedy Rebellatrix was replaced by sharks and other cruising predators, study leader Wendruff said.

“I like to say Rebellatrix was a spectacular failure.”….

 

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  • http://pantheory.org forrest noble

    Like much of the avenues of evolution, there is far more not known concerning details than there is clear evidence concerning evolution’s countless new starts, failures, consequences, and sequences.

    I would expect a faster swimming Coelacanth species would require more calories/ food and therefore might compete for different prey.

    Their instinctive strategies might have evolved somewhat differently such a hunting in the open waters rather than a hiding strategy for ambush, used by slower moving fish. As in the case of many different traits of similar species, some of these differing traits bring both advantages and disadvantages at the same time.

    This species seems to be just one of the countless vast majority of genus and species that eventually became extinct due to an ever changing environment.

    Once in a great while one of these animals/fish thought to be ancient and long ago extinct, shows up to be surviving in small numbers in some remote part of the world.

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