Living fossils

Do you have a favourite “living fossil“? The term was coined by Charles Darwin in his book On The Origin of Species in 1859 to describe living organisms that appeared unchanged from their extinct fossil relatives. He was describing animals such as the Nautilus (cephalopod) and Lingula (brachiopod) that he observed were “some of the most ancient […] animals do not differ much from living species.”

The term has gone on to describe organisms that seemed to have stopped evolving either in their genes (molecular) or form (morphological), or those with particularly long lineages. The term can also be somewhat problematic when used to describe animals that appear to have stopped evolving, but may just be doing so at a slowed pace, or in ways not visible to the human eye.

I wrote an article published this week in The Conversation, From coelacanths to crinoids: these 9 ‘living fossils’ haven’t changed in millions of years, listing my nine favourite marine living fossils. Top of the list is the enigmatic and beautiful coelacanth, of course!

I’ve had a few radio interviews in response to the article, and it has even been translated into Japanese on the Arkive 4 Ones website. Sugoi desu ne!

This article was all about curious “living fossil” sea creatures, but I’d love to follow up with a freshwater and terrestrial version one day. What would make your list?

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