By Scott Neuman
Scientists examining an unusual African fish that can walk and breathe air think they’ve learned a thing or two about how our distant ancestors made the leap from the oceans to terra firma some 400 million years ago.
The modern fish they studied is called Polypterus senegalus, which has both gills and lungs, as well as a remarkable ability to use its pectoral fins for locomotion. The lobe-like fins are positioned so the fish can walk, albeit awkwardly. Polypterus “looks very similar to the ancient fish that eventually evolved into tetrapods. That’s why scientists examined this species in order to learn a bit more about its unusual characteristics,” Science World Reportsays.
The Toronto Star writes that the results of the study, carried out by researchers from McGill University in Montreal and published in Nature, “suggest much about the evolution of complex pieces of anatomy such as arms and legs.”
“What we wanted to pin down was: If you change the environment of this fish, does it change its behavior or does its anatomy change?” said Emily Standen, now at the University of Ottawa.