Mother fish

29 May, 2008

Placoderm birth
Placoderm gives birth.
Source: Museum Victoria

380 million year old fishes found with unborn embryos.

In 2005 Museum Victoria’s expedition to the Gogo fossil sites in north Western Australia, lead by Dr John Long, made a swag of spectacular fossil discoveries, including that of a complete fish, Gogonasus, showing unexpected features similar to early land animals.

Today the team announced its latest discovery: a remarkable 380 million year old fossil placoderm fish with intact embryo and mineralised umbilical cord.

The discovery, published in Nature and one of the most significant ever made by Australian scientists, makes the fossil the world’s oldest known vertebrate mother. It also provides the earliest evidence of vertebrate sexual reproduction, wherein the males (which possessed clasping organs similar to modern sharks and rays) internally fertilised females.

This fossil has been named Materpiscis attenboroughi, meaning ‘mother fish’, in honour of Sir David Attenborough, who first drew attention to the significance of the Gogo sites in his 1979 series Life on Earth.

Mother Fish Animation

Armour-plated shark-like fishes with no modern relatives, a second placoderm specimen containing three embryos was found earlier in 1986 and only recently recognised. These embryos also provided the first data on their developmental biology, indicating the early sequence of bone formation in the placoderm’s growth stages.

Studied using an ultra-fine CT scanner at the Australian National University in Canberra, such extraordinary preservation in such an old fossil is unprecedented. The team had also previously announced the first 3-D preserved muscle, nerve and circulatory tissues in a Devonian age (380 million year old) fish in 2007 paper in Biology Letters.

Jong Long talks about Mother Fish

This research project was funded by Australian Research Council Grant DP0772138 ‘Old Brains, New Data’.

Long, J.A., Trinajstic, K., Young, G.C. & Senden, T. 2008. Live Birth in the Devonian. Nature 453, 650-652.

Long, J.A., Young, G.C.,Holland, T., Senden, T.J. & Fitzgerald, E.M.G. 2006. An exceptional Devonian fish from Australia sheds light on tetrapod origins. Nature 444, 199-202.

Trinajstic, K., Marshall, E., Long, J. & Bifield, K. 2007. Exceptional preservation of nerve and muscle. Biology Letters 3, 197-200.

Comments (5)

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victoria 5 March, 2011 11:54
thanks, helped me with my research alot! (:
Tamika 21 September, 2011 17:05
I still dont believe that humans evolved from fish. First they say we evolve from monkeys and now fish i dont know what to believe anymore. What so people have found fossles. Wow.... like that is something to go all excited about. I am a pretty hard person to convince when it comes to these sort of things. Before you know it they are going to be saying that humans evolve from seaweed !!!!!!!!! So try your best to try and convince me to believe that humans "evolve" from a silly old fish. Have humans evolved from anything yet ? Are we going to somehow transform into some sort of tree. I like science but when it comes to this sort of stuff like evolution. Give me your best statement. Give me your best shot of convincing me. Im sorry to burst your bubble but dont have a go at me for something i dont believe in. Just saying.
Matthew Little 8 May, 2017 22:53
Tamika , would it surprise you if I told you the salt content in your body is EXACTLY the same as the ocean. Just saying. You can't see electricity, but we know it's there. Have a great day, Matt
Discovery Centre 21 September, 2011 17:21

Tamika - thank you for your comment. It's not really our role to 'convince' people of anything, but instead to communicate and foster an understanding of the scientific research that Museum Victoria does. I think you may have misunderstood this article about the 'mother fish' to some extent, particularly regarding the relationship of this animal to hominids, however this is not intended to be confrontational.

With this page, we are communicating scientific research and presenting evidence that supports evolutionary theory; widely regarded as the most rigorous scientific interpretation of the fossil record. Yes, evolution is a theory, however electricity and gravity are also theories; they are the best explanations for what we observe in nature.

Steve R 23 September, 2011 00:23
Nice going museum! And yeah, we DID all evolve from seaweed, alga were the first organisms!! Its not about believing, its about looking at EVIDENCE!!
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