This fossil fish (named with an Eastern Canadian Inuit word) was found in 2006 in a fossil site off the coast of Canada near the Arctic Circle. Neil Shubin and his team, who discovered the 375-million-year-old fossil (from the Devonian Period), studied its anatomy and discovered that the fish showed primitive “legs” with the same basic bone structure that eventually formed the limbs of land animals and mammals. Tiktaalik also had a flexible neck that allowed it to turn its head without turning its whole body. Both of these anatomical structures, coupled with the fish’s likely lifestyle in shallow stream beds close to land during the crucial time period when land animals started to develop, made Tiktaalik a good candidate for an intermediary stage between fish and land animals.
While popular culture might call Tiktaalik fish a “missing link” between fish and mammals, Shubin actually rejects this term. Firstly, the fish is no longer “missing,” as it has been found, and it is not so much a singular link as one stage that life on Earth went through. Tiktaalik points to the ways that all animals are “linked” by their developmental history – some animals are just farther along on their specific developmental path. Tiktaalik represents the shared ancestry between all land animals, though modern species may look completely unrelated on the surface. Shubin uses the fish as a symbol of what human scientific inquiry can accomplish, making discoveries that change how we think about the history of humanity and all life on Earth.
Tiktaalik Roseae Quotes in Your Inner Fish
It took us six years to find it, but this fossil confirmed a prediction of paleontology: not only was the new fish an intermediate between two different kinds of animal, but we had found it also in the right time period in earth's history and in the right ancient environment. The answer came from 375-million-year-old rocks, formed in ancient streams.
I can do a similar analysis for the wrists, ribs, ears, and other parts of our skeleton—all these features can be traced back to a fish like this. This fossil is just as much a part of our history as the African hominids, such as Australopithecus afarensis, the famous "Lucy." Seeing Lucy, we can understand our history as highly advanced primates. Seeing Tiktaalik is seeing our history as fish.