Living fossil' fish gets a little older
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
A "living fossil", the coelacanth, swam the seas some 409 million years ago, a fossil skull reveals, pushing back the age of the lobe-finned fish family by 17 million years. Scholars documented the discovery of the primitive-looking fish (given the species name, Latimeria) in 1938, a finding that made headlines with news that a critter found in ancient fossils still swam in modern seas. Fossils later revealed fish that resembled modern-looking coelacanths were swimming around and had evolved complicated body plans by more than 380 million years ago, in the Middle Devonian era when the earliest land animals were still finding their footing. In the journal Nature Communications, a team led by Min Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reports the discovery of a coelacanth skull found in the Yunnan province of China, dating even further back, to more than 400 million years ago. That moves the ancient fish into the Early Devonian era, "The Age of Fish", a time marked by the first forests, when the large continent Gondwana was moving into position to form the super-continent Pangaea.