Posted by: drew | April 7, 2006

A Missing Link Discovered

Very exciting news for paleontology buffs and evolutionary scientists. Fossils representing a transitional species have been discovered in the Canadian Arctic. This shallow-water dwelling species of animal exhibits early anatomical characteristics of land-dwelling creatures.

Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals, scientists say.

The finds are giving researchers a fascinating insight into this key stage in the evolution of life on Earth.

US palaeontologists have published details of the fossil "missing links" in the prestigious journal Nature.

The 383 million-year-old specimens are described as crocodile-like animals with fins instead of limbs that probably lived in shallow water.

The creature shares some characteristics with a fish; it has fins with webbing, and scales on its back.

But it also has many features in common with land animals. It has a flat crocodile-like head with eyes positioned on top and the beginnings of a neck – something not seen in fish.

"When we look inside the fin, we see a shoulder, we see an elbow, and we see an early version of a wrist, which is very similar to that of all animals that also walk on land," said Professor Shubin.

Artist's impression of fish (National Geographic)

The scientists think the creature lived in the shallows

"Essentially we have an animal that is built to support itself on the ground."

The scientists believe the position of the creature's eyes suggest it probably lived in shallow water.

"We are capturing a very significant transition at a key moment of time. What is significant about the animal is that it is a fossil that blurs the distinction between two forms of life – between an animal that lives in water and an animal that lives on land."

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