Photo: James St. John, Latimeria chalumnae (Some rights reserved)
Publisher’s note: Many thanks to Martin Hatchuel for preparing the text for this feature on the Planeta Wiki.
Coelacanth = a genus of fish which has existed for more than 360 million years, but which was believed to have been extinct since the time of the dinosaurs.
It was rediscovered for science by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer in East London, South Africa in 1938, and the first specimen was described by the South African ichthyologist, JLB Smith, of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.
According to Arkive: “Unlike any other living animal, coelacanths have a hinged joint in the skull, which allows the front part of the head to be lifted whilst feeding. They also have limb-like, lobed pectoral and pelvic fins and a unique tail consisting of three distinct lobes … The scaly body is dark blue or brown in colour with white speckles, the pattern of which is unique to each individual and provides good camouflage against cave walls. A further unique feature is a receptor in the rostral organ of the head which can detect electric fields and may be used to locate prey or monitor its surroundings.’
JLB Smith told the story of the first specimen – and the dramatic hunt for a second – in his best selling book ‘Old Fourlegs.’ E-book versions of the first edition – titled ‘The search beneath the sea’ are available from the Open Library. openlibrary.org
In the late 1990s, Mark and Arnaz Erdmann saw a large fish in the market in Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia. The locals knew it as raja laut – but it was new to science. It was later classified as Latimeria menadoensis – the Indonesian coelacanth.
JLB Smith’s and the Erdmann’s stories are told in Samantha Weinberg’s book ‘A fish caught in time: the search for the coelacanth.’ books.google.co.za
Two modern species have been described:
L. chalumnae (West Indian Ocean coelacanth)
L. menadoensis (Indonesian coelacanth)
The coelacanth has body parts not found in any other species.
Nova interactive anatomy site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/anatomy-coelacanth.html
Indonesian: raja laut
Latimeria chalumnae (West Indian Ocean coelacanth): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Indian_Ocean_coelacanth
Latimeria menadoensis (Indonesian coelacanth): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_coelacanth
National Geographic: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/coelacanth/
JLB Smith: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.L.B._Smith
Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer: http://www.buffalocity.gov.za/peopleofthecity/oct06_latimer.stm
The coelacanth and East London: http://www.eastlondon.org.za/coelacanth.html#.UXONritgZBk
Samantha Weinberg ‘A fish caught in time: the search for the coelacanth.’ http://books.google.co.za/books/about/A_fish_caught_in_time.html?id=LzAQCx0XXKoC&redir_esc=y
Martin Hatchuel: The coelacanth: the Garden Route connection http://gartour.com/blog/item/the-coelacanth-the-garden-route-connection
Extinct coelacanths probably had a lung to supplement breathing.