Original Published Date: 
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Full article issued by Flinders University.

Supported by the ARC and international experts, new research led by Flinders University palaeontologists on the cranium of a Queensland fish fossil has given new insights to explain how fish first left the water to invade land about 370 million years ago.

The researchers studied Cladarosymblema narrienense, a 330 million-year-old fish from the Carboniferous Period found in Queensland, which is an ancestor of the first land animals or four-limbed vertebrate tetrapods.

Cladarosymblema is a type of ‘megalichthyid’ fish, a group which existed from the Devonian-to-Permian periods, typically living in freshwater environments, and they were large, predatory animals. Through scanning the fossil, they found evidence this fish had a brain similar to its eventual terrestrial descendants, compared to the brains of other fishes which remained living in water.

While this fish was first described in 1995, parts of its anatomy have remained unknown. By using Australia’s largest cabinet CT scanner, located at Flinders University, as well as the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, the researchers were able to unlock new data from this fossil.

New information obtained from often unseen internal bones has been revealed in these scans – particularly in the gill arch skeleton, the shoulder girdle and the palate bones (the upper mouth roof area).

'This helps us to understand the functional morphology and relationships of Cladarosymblema,' says Dr Alice Clement, lead researcher on the discovery and part of the Flinders Palaeontology Group.

Photo credit: 

Dr Alice Clement, from Flinders Palaeontology Group. Courtesy: Flinders University.