Coelacanths: the fish that 'outdid' the Loch Ness Monster
By Emily Osterloff
The unexpected capture of a living coelacanth in the 1930s was 'the most sensational natural history discovery' of the century. In April 1939, New Zealand's Auckland Star proclaimed that the Loch Ness monster, a sensation that had caught the world's attention not long prior, had been 'outdone'.Making up for the world's disappointment that there wasn't a prehistoric creature living in a Scottish loch was the South African discovery of a strange, steel blue fish with limb-like fins.The fish was a coelacanth, one of a group that was thought to have gone extinct 70 million years earlier. But this one was alive.Coelacanths were first described by Louis Agassiz in 1836 from a 260-million-year-old fossilised fish tail. He named the genus Coelacanthus. Many more fossil coelacanths have been found since, ranging in age from 409-66 million years old.
The living West Indian Ocean coelacanth reaches up to two metres long and 100 kilograms. It's typically found 90-300 metres below the surface, in waters 18°C and below. The fish shelter in caves during the day and venture out at night to hunt cuttlefish, squid and fish. It has been suggested that they have a lifespan of 100 years.
In 1975, scientists discovered that the fish give birth to live young. Eggs hatch in the female's body, and the pups grow to about 30 centimetres before they are born after a gestation of over a year.
Finding a living coelacanth has been described as like finding a dinosaur wandering around your garden. The youngest known fossil coelacanth is 66 million years old, leading to the assumption that these animals were extinct.
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