Living Fossils pp 166-169 | Cite as

The Coelacanth as a Living Fossil

  • Peter Forey
Part of the Casebooks in Earth Sciences book series (CASEBOOKS)


The living coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae Smith, occupies a rare position in the history of the study of vertebrates, being a member of a group recognized on the basis of fossils and only subsequently found to be extant. In this sense then, the self-contradictory term “living fossil” carries a slightly more literal meaning than most other examples in this book. Lungfishes (Dipnoi) were also known as fossils before a Recent example (Lepidosiren) was recognized (Fitzinger 1837), but, in this case, a mere 9 years separated the identification of fossil and Recent representatives. For coelacanths, nearly one-hundred years separates Agassiz’s (1839) naming of the Permian Coelacanthus and the landing of the first specimen of Latimeria late in 1938.


Lower Triassic Living Fossil Hyoid Apparatus Character Acquisition Intercalary Type 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agassiz, J. L. R. 1839. Recherches sur les poisons fossiles. Neuchatel 2: pl. 42.Google Scholar
  2. Berg, L. S. 1940. Classification of fishes, both recent and fossil. Trudy Zoologicheskogo Instituta. Akademiya Nauk SSSR. Leningrad 5:87–517.Google Scholar
  3. Darwin, C. R. 1859. On the origin of species. (1960 reprint.) London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  4. Eldredge, N. 1979. Cladism and common sense, pp. 165–198. In: Cracraft, J., Eldredge, N. (eds.), Phylogenetic analysis and paleontology. New York: Columbia U. Press.Google Scholar
  5. Fitzinger, L. J. F. J. 1837. Vorläufiger Bericht über eine höchst interessante Entdeckung Dr. Natterers in Brasil. Isis, Jena:379–380.Google Scholar
  6. Forster, G. R. 1974. The ecology of Latimeria chalumnae Smith: results of field studies from Grande Comore. Proc. Roy. Soc. London, Ser. B 186:291–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Griffith, R. W., Pang, P. K. T. 1979. Mechanisms of osmoregulation in the coelacanth: evolutionary implications. Occ. Papers Calif. Acad. Sci. 134:79–93.Google Scholar
  8. Hancock, J. 1976. The petrology of the Chalk. Proc. Geol. Assoc. 86:499–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Huxley, T. H. 1908. Discourses: biological and geological. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  10. Lauder, G. V. 1980. The role of the hyoid apparatus in the feeding mechanism of the coelacanth Latimeria chalumna. Copeia 1980:1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lockett, N. A. 1980. Review lecture: some advances in coelacanth biology. Proc. Roy. Soc. London, Ser. B 208:265–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. McCosker, J. E. 1979. Inferred natural history of the living coelacanth. Occ. Papers Calif. Acad. Sci. 134:17–24.Google Scholar
  13. Romer, A. S. 1945. Vertebrate paleontology. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Rosen, D. E., Forey, P. L., Gardiner, B. G., Patterson, C. 1981. Lungfishes, tetrapods, paleontology, and plesiomorphy. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 167:159–276.Google Scholar
  15. Schaeffer, B. 1952a. Rates of evolution in the coelacanth and dipnoan fishes. Evolution 6:101–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Schaeffer, B. 1952b. The Triassic fish Diplurus with observations on the evolution of the Coelacanthini. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 99:25–78.Google Scholar
  17. Stanley, S. M. 1979. Macroevolution. San Francisco: Freeman.Google Scholar
  18. Vorobyeva, E. I., Obruchev, D. V. 1967. Subclass Sarcopterygii, pp. 480–498. In: Obruchev, D. V. (ed.), Fundamentals of palaeontology, 11. Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations.Google Scholar
  19. Westoll, T. S. 1949. On the evolution of the Dipnoi, pp. 121–184. In: Jepsen, G. L., Simpson, G. G., Mayr, E. (eds.), Genetics palaeontology and evolution. Princeton: Princeton U. Press.Google Scholar
  20. White, E. I. 1953. The coelacanth fishes. Discovery 14:113–116.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Forey
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PalaeontologyBritish Museum (Natural History)LondonEngland

Personalised recommendations