This 390-million-year-old fish-like creature turns out to be the earliest ancestors of man

A 390 million year old fish-like creature with four limbs that was discovered in Scotland in the 1890s has been revealed to be the earliest ancestor of all four-limbed animals, including humans. This ancient creature was unearthed in a prehistoric graveyard in Caithness. A new research study has indicated that the creature, called Palaeospondylus gunni, may be the “missing link” in vertebrate evolution. Notably, researchers have found an abundance of these fish-like creatures from prehistoric graveyards in Scotland. Even though it was discovered over 130 years ago, scientists had a hard time placing it on the evolutionary tree because Palaeospondylus was only about 5cm long, making the difficult cranial reconstructions.

But now researchers from the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research in Japan have found evidence that the creature had one jaw and four limbs, reports

Research has placed this creature at the bottom of the vertebrate family tree, including humans.

This ancient creature had a flat head, an eel-like body and lived on a deep freshwater loch bed, feeding on leaves and other organic debris, the study published in the journal Nature says.

And at that time, the landmass of Scotland was located south of the equator, where central Africa is today. It was arid and “semi-hot”, according to the scientists.

Palaeopondylus was the first vertebrate to emerge from the water. Eventually, its fins grew into limbs and gave rise to mammals, birds, and reptiles.

“Palaeospondylus gunni, from the Middle Devonian period, is one of the most enigmatic fossil vertebrates,” said lead author Professor Tatsuya Hirasawa, from the University of Tokyo in Japan, as quoted by The Scotsman newspaper. .

“Its phylogenetic position has remained uncertain since its discovery in Scotland over 130 years ago. Whether these features were lost through evolution or whether normal development froze halfway through the fossil record may never be known.

“Nevertheless, this evolution could have facilitated the development of new features like members.”

(With agency contributions)


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