'Living Fossils' Identified By Researchers in England

First Posted: Oct 04, 2015 10:02 PM EDT

Coelacanth fish fossils from over 210 million years ago were discovered by researchers in England, according to a recent study. 

The coelacanth fish, which is found in the Indian Ocean, is often referred to as a 'living fossil,' since its latest ancestors were around 70 million years ago, and their species have managed to stay generally the same to present day.

However, there were no fossil samples found from prior to that time - until recently - when samples of older coelacanth remains were discovered in a fossil deposit near Bristol by Harry Allard, a student from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences.

Allard discovered sample remains of coelacanth fish while working on a research study in a section of Late Triassic rocks at Manor Farm, Australia, near the first Severn crossing. The samples varied in size, from juveniles to adults. The Manor Farm site was under construction about 15 years ago, with a special area dug out for the public and geologists to learn and research about the geology of the area.

The fossils were found in an immense assortment of reptile and fish bones and teeth, which was used as a model for animals that lived in shallow seas and close by terrestrials of land during the time when dinosaurs roamed Bristol - and when the area consisted of many tropical islands.

"These fossils provide an amazing glimpse of an ecosystem which is so different from the contemporary landscape of southwest England," Allard said, in a news release. "It has been fascinating to look at the changing composition of that long-lost ecosystem."

In his research, Allard traced upwards through the five bone bones--thus, he was able to determine how the fish faunas transformed from time to time and how they initially protected themselves from small sharks.

"These fishes were quite diverse in the Triassic, and only dwindled in importance later. They are most unusual, having gills and lungs, and moving both by paddling with their gills, and stilt-walking along the seabed as well," said fish fossil expert Chris Duffin, who was involved in the study.

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