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‘Living Fossil’ Eel Swam at Dawn of Dinosaur Age

by Nicklas Karlsson | August 26, 2011
"We believe that such a long, independent evolutionary history, [...] retention of several primitive anatomical features and apparently restricted distribution, warrant its recognition as a living fossil,"
- Ichthyologist Dave Johnson at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the team's research

In the small island republic of Palau, marine biologists have made a remarkable find just 35 meters below the surface. A new species of eel have been discovered which seem to be closer related to ancient fossils of eel from the Cretaceous era, rather than modern eels. The animal likely appeared some 200 million years ago, just at the very end of the Triassic period.

"We believe that such a long, independent evolutionary history, [...] retention of several primitive anatomical features and apparently restricted distribution, warrant its recognition as a living fossil," says Ichthyologist Dave Johnson at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the team's research.

The discovery has led to the creation of a new taxonomic name for the eel; Protoanguillidae, which stems from the Greek word proto, meaning first and the Latin word for eel, Anguilla. According to the scientists in charge it is because "In some features it is more primitive than recent eels, and in others, even more primitive than the oldest known fossil eels, suggesting that it represents a 'living fossil' without a known fossil record."

Recently new scientific expeditions around the world are starting to unravel hundreds of news large species in all parts of the animal kingdom. The discovery of this new eel is yet another testament to the diversity of our planet and the need to protect it. Further on Mr. Johnson commented that; "The discovery of this extraordinary and beautiful new species of eel underscores how much more there is to learn about our planet," Johnson adds. "Furthermore, it brings home the critical importance of future conservation efforts—currently this species is known from only 10 specimens collected from a single cave in Palau."


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