A new species of coelacanth fish has been discovered in Texas. Pieces of tiny fossil skull found in Fort Worth have been identified as 100 million-year-old coelacanth bones, according to SMU paleontologist John Graf.
The coelacanth has one of the longest lineages — 400 million years — of any animal. It is the fish most closely related to vertebrates, including humans.
The SMU specimen is the first coelacanth in Texas from the Cretaceous, said Graf, who identified the fossil. The Cretaceous geologic period extended from 146 million years ago to 66 million years ago.
Graf named the new coelacanth species Reidus hilli. It is now the youngest coelacanth identified in the Lone Star State, a distinction previously belonging to a 200 million-year-old coelacanth from the Triassic. Reidus hilli is also the first coelacanth ever identified from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Coelacanth fossils have been found on every continent except Antarctica. Few have been found in Texas, said Graf, a paleontology graduate student in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences of SMU’s Dedman College.
The coelacanth has eluded extinction for 400 million years. Scientists estimate it reached its maximum diversity during the Triassic. The fish was thought to have gone extinct about 70 million years ago. However, the fish rose to fame in 1938 after live specimens were caught off the coast of Africa. Today coelacanths can be found swimming in the depths of the Indian Ocean.
“These animals have one of the longest lineages of any vertebrates that we know,” Graf said.
The SMU specimen demonstrates there was greater diversity among coelacanths during the Cretaceous than previously known.
“What makes the coelacanth interesting is that they are literally the closest living fish to all the vertebrates that are living on land,” he said. “They share the most recent common ancestor with all of terrestrial vertebrates.”
Coelacanths have boney support in their fins, which is the predecessor to true limbs. “Boney support in the fins allows a marine vertebrate to lift itself upright off the sea floor,” Graf said, “which would eventually lead to animals being able to come up on land.”
Written by Margaret Allen