Let's make living fossils extinct

Mark Carnall

Blue Ring
Jun 28, 2016
Let's make living fossils extinct
Mark Carnall Guardian Lost Worlds Revisited Blog

Some shameless self promotion but thought it would be of interest to the community for every time nautiluses are described as living fossils (I also couldn't help reference cephs given the chance).

I've had a lot of kickback from scientists and educators who suggest it's useful in engagement. Would love to hear thoughts here....
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@Mark Carnall if you will make an entry in the Members Publications thread, I will add you to my list of Google Scholar searches and attempt to maintain a list of ceph related articles that show up under your name. All I need you to include in the post is your TONMO name and your Author name but you are welcomed to add any publications you have written (preferably with a link to the article/paper/abstract). Only supporters can update their posts after a few minutes but feel free to PM me if something new should be added that I miss (or become a supporter :sagrin:).

I have a huge, no HUGE, disdain for that term. (even though I have used it). I appreciate the term in a way, but I also think it limits our understanding and appreciation of many species that are forever paired with this term.

The Nautilus Case - Sure, they are "living fossils" because of the external shell that no other extant (living) cephalopods possess. But, they are not "living fossils" because so many other things about their soft parts and behaviors have changed over the years. I also think terms like these actually limit scientific progress, Especially with nautiluses, these "living fossils" were thought to be very simple, and even dumb, animals and the idea of nautiluses exhibiting complex behaviors was not appreciated until fairly recently.

So, do we retire the term? What term to use instead?

Thanks Greg! As I mentioned in the blog, I prefer the 'Evolutionarily distinct' as used by the Zoological Society London in their (vertebrate-focused EDGE project).

What some scientists and sci-commers have said to me in reaction to this blog is that it's a useful 'way in' for the public at large but I think it creates a lot of confusion e.g. people thinking that individual animals have been alive for millions of years.

And for most 'living fossils' there are a tonne of more interesting ways to enthuse, inspire and engage people without wheeling out the term living fossil, the term itself isn't widely known in any case.

For nautiluses, obviously the best 'living fossils', their biological distinctiveness amongst living animals, amazing senses and probable threats are more worth the air time.

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