Some 375 million years ago, our ancestors emerged from the sea, evolving from swimming fish to vertebrates that walked on land.
Scientists still puzzle over exactly how the transition from sea to land took place. For the most part, they’ve had to rely on information gleaned from fossils of some of the intermediate species.
But now a team of researchers has found a remarkable parallel to one of evolution’s signature events. In a cave in Thailand, they’ve discovered that a blind fish walks the way land vertebrates do.
The waterfall-climbing cave fish, Cryptotora thamicola, has even evolved many of the skeletal features that our ancestors did for walking, including a full-blown pelvis.
Drop an ordinary fish on the ground, and it will flop around helplessly: Its fins are adapted for pushing against water, not fighting gravity.
The early land vertebrates, known as tetrapods, evolved adaptations that enabled them to move efficiently over solid ground. A pelvis joined their hind limbs to their spines, for example. Their vertebrae grew flanges so that they interlocked, helping the spine hold itself stiff and straight even when being pulled down by gravity.
These adaptations led tetrapods to walk in a distinctive fashion, moving their forelegs and hind legs together in a cycle. Early tetrapods probably walked much the way salamanders do today, bending their trunk from side to side as they traveled.
All tetrapods descend from a single ancestor — a single lineage of fish that managed to spread on land. Some other fishes evolved vaguely similar ways of moving around.
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