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Coelacanth

The coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is a ‘living fossil’ previously believed to have gone extinct at the time of the dinosaurs until the first scientifically noted rediscovery in 1938. This amazing specimen was dubbed the ‘most important zoological find of the century’, and the species is a member of an ancient lineage that has been around for over 360 million years. 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. Adding to the excitement surrounding the species is the ongoing controversy as to whether coelacanths or lungfish represent the closest living relatives to the first creature to walk on land. 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.

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