Artists reconstruction of Elpistostege fish fossil found in Miguasha, Canada. Credit: Katrina Kenny
Original Published Date: 
Monday, June 15, 2020

Full article issued by Flinders University.

An ancient fish fossil found by a team including ARC-supported palaeontologists from Flinders University and Universite du Quebec a Rimouski in Canada has revealed new insights into how the human hand evolved from fish fins.

The 1.57 metre long fish specimen, which was found in Canada, has yielded the missing evolutionary link in the fish to tetrapod transition, as fish began to foray into habitats such as shallow water and land during the Late Devonian period, around 390-360 million years ago.

The fossil clearly shows the complete arm (pectoral fin) skeleton for the first time in any fish of its kind. Using high energy CT-scans, the skeleton of the pectoral fin revealed the presence of a humerus (arm), radius and ulna (forearm), rows of carpus (wrist) and phalanges organized in digits (fingers).

“This is the first time that we have unequivocally discovered fingers locked in a fin with fin-rays in any known fish," says Strategic Professor in Palaeontology at Flinders University, Professor John Long. "The articulating digits in the fin are like the finger bones found in the hands of most animals.”

The finding pushes back the origin of digits in vertebrates to the fish level, and establishes that the patterning for the vertebrate hand was first developed deep in evolution, just before fishes left the water.

Photo credit: 

Artists reconstruction of Elpistostege fish fossil found in Miguasha, Canada. Credit: Katrina Kenny.