Video: Ancient Fish Takes a Walk

Credit: University of Chicago/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, the song goes, but new research reveals that at least one ancient fish can take a walk. The African lungfish (Protopterus annectens), a 230-million-year-old species found in backwaters in countries such as Senegal, has long been rumored to stride along riverbeds. Now researchers wielding video cameras have caught the creature in action in laboratory tanks, not only walking but also bounding on the skinny fins that sprout from the belly halfway between snout and tail. As lungfish ambled across the floor of the tank, they raised their bodies off the surface—something only four-legged land animals usually do, according to a paper published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team speculates that walking may be less likely to attract predators—or scare prey—than swimming. Lungfish are close kin to the ancestors of terrestrial animals, so the researchers say the study shows that the ability to stroll along a surface evolved even before creatures moved from sea to dry land.

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