Living fossil

The American crocodile

Living fossil refers to life forms which have survived with little change for a long time, and which are still around today.

  • Horseshoe crabs are a typical case of living fossil. They have changed little in appearance since the Ordovician period, 450 million years ago.
  • Turtles are first known from 215 million years ago, but for some reason they are not often mentioned as living fossils.
  • The Coelacanth is definitely a living fossil. It is the closest link between fish and the first amphibians (408–362 million years ago). The Coelacanth was thought to have been extinct for 80 million years until one was caught alive off the east African coast in 1938. It is therefore also a Lazarus taxon.
  • The Ginkgo tree, Ginkgo biloba, is a good example from the world of plants. It is a gymnosperm. It was thought to be long extinct in the wild, but is now known to grow in at least two small areas in China. The first similar fossils date from the Permian period, 270 million years ago.

Living fossils are not identical to their ancestors, of course. But they lived in the same or similar environments, and their adaptations suggest that their life-style was the same, or very similar.

Lingula sp.1 - Devonico superior cropped.JPG
Lingula anatina 7.JPG
Figure 11.8: Fossil Lingula (left) and modern Lingula (right).
Modern Lingula anatina, very much alive
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Lewende fossiel
العربية: حفرية حية
беларуская: Жывыя выкапні
English: Living fossil
español: Fósil viviente
Esperanto: Vivanta fosilio
euskara: Fosil bizidun
فارسی: فسیل زنده
Gaeilge: Iontaise bheo
Bahasa Indonesia: Fosil hidup
italiano: Fossile vivente
עברית: מאובן חי
lietuvių: Gyvoji fosilija
Limburgs: Laevend fossiel
മലയാളം: സജീവഫോസിൽ
Nederlands: Levend fossiel
occitan: Fossil vivent
português: Fóssil vivo
română: Fosilă vie
slovenčina: Živá fosília
slovenščina: Živi fosil
Türkçe: Yaşayan fosil
українська: Живі викопні
Tiếng Việt: Hóa thạch sống
中文: 活化石