January 6, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Tiktaalik Demoted to Has-Been

The highly-publicized tetrapod missing link or “fish-a-pod” that made headlines in 2006 (05/03/2006) has been dethroned by new findings in Poland.  Trackways said to be 18 million years older than Tiktaalik, showing digits and alternating steps, were announced today in Nature.1  The authors said, “They force a radical reassessment of the timing, ecology and environmental setting of the fish�tetrapod transition, as well as the completeness of the body fossil record.
    Here is a sample of the revolutionary talk being reported:

  • “These results force us to reconsider our whole picture of the transition from fish to land animals” said co-discoverer Per Ahlberg in Science Daily.
  • The finding “could lead to significant shifts in our knowledge of the timing and ecological setting of early tetrapod evolution.” – Ted Daeschler in National Geographic News.
  • “The team says the find means that land vertebrates appeared millions of years earlier than previously supposed…. the Zachelmie Quarry tetrapods break the neat and simple timeline.” (BBC News).
  • “The fish�tetrapod transition was thus seemingly quite well documented…. Now, however, Niedzwiedzki et al lob a grenade into that picture.” – Janvier and Clement, commenting on the find in Nature.2
  • “It blows the whole story out of the water, so to speak.” – Jenny Clack (Harvard), in PhysOrg.
  • “We didn’t know they existed at this point, and we would not have expected to have found them in this environment.” – Per Ahlberg, co-discoverer, in Live Science.

No body fossils were found.  This means that inferences about the trackmakers will be limited.  Readers should therefore take caution at the artist reconstructions in some articles, such as National Geographic, that try to give the animals a fish-like appearance.  PhysOrg noted, “Although she acknowledged their importance, Clack warned against drawing conclusions exclusively on small marks left by animals on the bottom of a muddy surface hundreds of millions of years ago.”  The tracks are dated 397 mya, whereas Tiktaalik was dated around 380 mya.  The scientists inferred that the trackmakers were sizeable – about 2 meters long.  Since no tail drag prints are seen, the animals must have had limbs strong enough to hold their bodies above ground (see illustrations in the BBC News).
    Another bombshell is that this may not be the only grenade to be lobbed into the picture.  The discoverers noted with interest that trackways from Glenisla dated late Silurian (418-422 mya), thought to be those of arthropods, may actually be vertebrate tetrapod tracks as well.3  And the new Polish trackways open the door to more finds like it.  “Obviously the hunt is on,” Ahlberg said, for more trackways and body fossils from that period and the locale’s presumed intertidal environment.  Janvier and Clement said,

Niedzwiedzki and colleagues’ apparently anachronistic Eifelian [397-391 mya] tetrapod trackways will thus shake up thinking about tetrapod origins.  They show that the first tetrapods thrived in the sea, trampling the mud of coral-reef lagoons; this is at odds with the long-held view that river deltas and lakes were the necessary environments for the transition from water to land during vertebrate evolution.  And in guiding the search for a gradual timing of the fin�limb transition during the Middle Devonian, they are likely to trigger a burst of field investigations into potential tetrapodomorph fish sites of Emsian [497-397 mya] or earlier age.


1.  Niedzwiedzki et al, “Tetrapod trackways from the early Middle Devonian period of Poland,” Nature, 463, 43-48 (7 January 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08623.
2.  Janvier and Clement, “Palaeontology: Muddy tetrapod origins,” Nature 463, 40-41 (7 January 2010) | doi:10.1038/463040a.
3.  Gouramanis, Webb and Warren, “Fluviodeltaic sedimentology and ichnology of part of the Silurian Grampians Group, western Victoria,” Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, Volume 50, Issue 5 October 2003, pages 811-825, DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-0952.2003.01028.x.

Did you know evolutionists believe in ghosts?  Really.  Think about this quote from the paper.  Commenting on the implications of finding tetrapod tracks 18 million years earlier than expected, they said, “This forces us to infer much longer ghost lineages for tetrapods and elpistostegids than the body fossil record suggests (Fig. 5a, b).”  And what are ghost lineages, you ask?  “(Ghost lineages are those that must have existed at a particular time, according to the phylogeny, but which are not represented by fossils at that time.)”  In other words, they see phantoms in their evolutionary mind’s eye.  They see mythical entities that must have existed, simply because their belief system requires them.  And you thought that science required evidence.
    The paper was submitted to Nature in July, and was accepted in October.  No doubt Neil Shubin and his inner fish (01/16/2008) were tipped off to this discovery before the public announcement, and he is preparing a debunking.  Evolutionists need a dramatic upset in the press every once in awhile just to keep the public thinking that their work is relevant.  It’s kind of like sports.  Shubin and Clack are on defense, the Poles are on offense.  The defensive linemen will either claim the tracks were misinterpreted (maybe they were made by ghost jellyfish) or they will go back on offense by finding a tetrapod track even earlier, to push the ball down the field.  The trend in fossil discoveries, though, has been finding complexity further and further back in the record.  In the asymptotic limit, all tetrapods are found to have abruptly appeared on the sixth day.

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