Lifestyle & Belief

Eel-a-saurus: scientists hail new species a 'living fossil'


The existence of this newly discovered species of eel, Protoanguilla palau, dates back 200 million years.


Jiro Sakaue

A new species of eel found in an underwater cave in the Pacific Ocean is being hailed a “living fossil” due to its primitive features.

An article published Wednesday in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said the eel – which inhabits waters off the Republic of Palau, 500 miles east of the Philippines – is similar to eels that lived in the early Mesozoic era.

Scientists discovered the new genus and species last year in a 35-meter-deep fringing-reef cave. The BBC said it is so distinct, that a new taxonomic family has been created to describe its relationship to other eels.

A total of 819 species have previously being listed and grouped into 19 families, but Protoanguilla palau has very few of the anatomical characteristics of modern eels.

The name comes from the Greek word "protos," meaning first, and the Latin word for eel, anguilla.

According to the International Business Times contrast, similarities the eel has with its early ancestors include: a large head, compressed body, collar-like openings on the gills, rays on the caudal fin and a jawbone tip called a premaxilla.

The US-Japanese team of researchers who made the discovery wrote in the journal:

In some features it is more primitive than recent eels, and in others, even more primitive than the oldest known fossil eels, suggesting that it represents a living fossil' without a known fossil record

The team was led by scientists from the Natural History Museum and Institute in Japan, the Southern Marine Laboratory in Palau and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Using hand nets and lamps, they collected eight eels and carried out DNA testing to determine the specimens' place in the genetic history of eels.