These fossils, found on Ellesmere Island in Arctic Canada, are the most compelling examples yet of an animal that was at the cusp of the fish-tetrapod transition. The new find is described in two related research articles highlighted on the cover of the April 6, 2006, issue of Nature.
"Tiktaalik blurs the boundary between fish and land-living animal both in terms of its anatomy and its way of life," said Neil Shubin, professor and chairman of organismal biology at the University of Chicago and co-leader of the project.
Tiktaalik was a predator with sharp teeth, a crocodile-like head and a flattened body. The well-preserved skeletal material from several specimens, ranging from 4 to 9 feet long, enabled the researchers to study the mosaic pattern of evolutionary change in different parts of the skeleton as fish evolved into land animals.
The high quality of the fossils also allowed the team to examine the joint surfaces on many of the fin bones, concluding that the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints were capable of supporting the body-like limbed animals.
"Human comprehension of the history of life on Earth is taking a major leap forward," said H. Richard Lane, director of sedimentary geology and paleobiology at the National Science Foundation. "These exciting discoveries are providing fossil 'Rosetta Stones' for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone--fish to land-roaming tetrapods."
One of the most important aspects of this discovery is the illumination of the fin-to-limb transition. In a s
Contact: Catherine Gianaro
University of Chicago Medical Center