A Harvard paleontologist has discovered a fossil that represents
evidence for the evolutionary transition of fish from water to land—a
find some experts are calling an evolutionary missing link.
Farish A. Jenkins Jr., professor of biology and Agassiz
professor of zoology, along with Neil H. Shubin, professor of
organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, and Edward
B. Daeschler of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia formed
the core group of scientists who made the discovery in the Canadian
The fossil, called Tiktaalik roseae, was found in rocks from
the Devonian Age, which date back 375 million years. The organism’s
gills identify it as a fish, but it lacks the piscatorial
characteristic of a neck that is connected to the shoulder girdle,
Jenkins said. The fish’s front fin contains identifiable wrist bones
and features that resemble fingers, he added.
“It fills a gap in our understanding,” Jenkins said. “We knew
about lobed-fin fish, we knew about early tetrapods, but how do you
turn lobed-fin fish into tetrapods? This fish is beginning to turn into
a tetrapod, giving us real insight on anatomical evolutionary
Tetrapods are land animals with limbs.
Comprising 10 individuals, with three “really good” specimens,
the fossils are important in their fin/limb skeletons, true necks, and
“This is not just some esoteric branch of the history of life,
this is our branch, that part of the branch which we share
with...everything with limbs,” said Shudin, who was advised by Jenkins
while attending graduate school at Harvard.
“By uncovering this creature, and other creatures, we’re understanding a major trunk of our evolutionary past.”
The field explorations were conducted in the summers of 1999,