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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Meet _Qikiqtania_, a fossil fish that has a good sense of living in water while others have migrated to land

About 365 million years ago, a group of fish left the water to live on land. These animals were early tetrapods, a lineage that would radiate to include many thousands of species, including amphibians, birds, lizards and mammals. Humans are descendants of those early tetrapods, and we share the legacy of their water-to-land transition.

But what if, instead of going ashore, they had turned back? What if these animals, close to leaving the water, retreated to live in more open water again?

A new fossil shows that a fish actually did just that. Unlike other closely related animals, which were using their fins to propel their bodies on the bottom of the water and perhaps occasionally venture out onto land, this newly discovered creature had fins that were able to swim. were created.

tom stewart holds Qikiqtania Fossils.
Stephanie SongCC BY-ND

In March 2020, I was at the University of Chicago and a member of biologist Neil Shubin’s lab. I was working with Justin Lemberg, another researcher in our group, to process a fossil that was collected back in 2004 during an expedition to the Canadian Arctic.

From the surface of the rock it was placed inside, we could see fragments of the jaw, about 2 inches long (5 cm) and with sharp teeth. There were also spots of white scales with a bumpy texture. The anatomy gave us subtle clues that the fossil was an early tetrapod. But we wanted to see inside the rock.

So we used a technique called CT scanning, which shoots X-rays through the sample, in order to see anything that might be hidden inside is visible outside. On March 13, we scanned a simple piece of rock that had a few scales on top and found that a whole wing was buried in it. Our jaws dropped. A few days later, the labs and campuses were closed and COVID-19 sent us into lockdown.

found out fin

A fin like this is extremely valuable. This could give scientists clues as to how early tetrapods evolved and how they lived hundreds of millions of years ago. For example, based on the shape of certain bones in the skeleton, we can predict whether an animal was swimming or walking.

Although that first scan of Finn was promising, we needed to see the skeleton in high resolution. As soon as we were allowed back on campus, a professor from the university’s Department of Geophysical Sciences helped us trim the block using a rock saw. This made the block more fin, less rock, allowing a better scan and closer view of the fin.

An animation of the pectoral fin Qikiqtania Showing how it was preserved in the rock. The scales are shown in yellow, the fin rays in blue, and the endoskeleton in grey. credit: Tom Stewart

When the dust cleared and we finished analyzing the data on the jaws, scales and fins, we realized that this animal was a new species. Not only that, it turns out that it is one of the closest known relatives of the creatures with fingers and toes.

we named it kikiqtaniya wakey, Its genus name, pronounced “kick-kick-tani-ah”, refers to the Inuktitut word kikikatluk or kikikatani, the traditional name for the area where the fossil was found. When this fish was alive, many millions of years ago, it was a warm environment with rivers and streams. Its species name honors the late David Wake, a scientist and patron who inspired many of us in the fields of evolutionary and developmental biology.

An animation of the complete skeleton of Qikiqtania, credit: Tom Stewart

Skeletons show how an animal lived

Qikiqtania Tells a lot about an important period in the history of our dynasty. Its scales clearly tell researchers that it was living underwater. They show sensory canals that allow the animal to detect the flow of water around its body. Its jaws tell us that it was foraging as a predator, biting and catching prey with a series of fangs and pulling food into its mouth by suction.

but it is Qikiqtaniaof the pectoral fin which is the most amazing. It contains the bone of the humerus, just like we have in our upper arm. but QikiqtaniaIt’s a very strange shape.

early tetrapods, such as Tiktaalik, is the humora with a prominent ridge on the underside and a distinctive set of bumps where the muscles are attached. These bony bumps tell us that early tetrapods lived at the bottom of lakes and rivers, using their wings or arms to prop themselves up, first under water and later on land.

QikiqtaniaThe humerus is different. It lacks those trademark streaks and processes. Instead, its humerus is slender and boomerang-shaped, and the rest of the wing is large and paddle-like. This fin was made for swimming.

While other early tetrapods were playing at the water’s edge, learning what the land had to offer, Qikiqtania was doing something different. Its humerus is virtually unlike any other known. my colleagues and I think it shows that Qikiqtania had turned back from the water’s edge and evolved to live, once again, off land and in open water.

Development is not a march in one direction

Evolution is not a simple, linear process. Although it may seem that early tetrapods were essentially walking towards life on land, Qikiqtania Shows exactly the limits of such a directional perspective. Evolution did not make a ladder towards humans. It is a complex set of processes that together develop the tangled tree of life. New species are formed and they diversify. Branches can go in any direction.

Man Standing On Rocky Flat Ground With Mountains In The Distance
Neil Shubin, who found the fossil, points to the place in the valley where Qikiqtania Was discovered on Ellesmere Island.
Neil ShubinCC BY-ND

This fossil is special for several reasons. It is not only miraculous that this fish was preserved in the reef for hundreds of millions of years before it was discovered on Ellesmere Island by scientists in the Arctic. It is not only that it is remarkably complete, its complete anatomy has been revealed to be seriously on the verge of a global pandemic. It also provides a glimpse into the wide diversity and lifestyle of fish on the water-to-land transition for the first time. It helps researchers see more than a ladder and understand that fascinating, entangled tree.

Searches depend on the community

Qikiqtania The Inuit was found on the land, and it belongs to that community. My colleagues and I were only able to conduct this research because of the generosity and support of individuals in the villages of Resolute Bay and Gris Fiord, Ivic Hunters and Trappers of Gris Fiord, and the Department of Heritage and Culture, Nunavut. For them, on behalf of our entire research team, “Nakurmik.” Thanks. Paleontological expeditions to their land have really changed how we understand the history of life on Earth.

COVID-19 has prevented many paleontologists from traveling around the world and visiting field sites over the years. We look forward to returning, reuniting and reuniting with old friends. Who knows what other animals are hiding, waiting to be discovered inside blocks of immaculate stone.

World Nation News Desk
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