By Carolyn Belardo
A group of remarkably well-preserved fossils that demonstrate the evolutionary transition from finned to limbed animals—and that made world headlines—is heading back to Canada, but not before the fossils get a proper send-off.
Tiktaalik roseae is the 375-million-year-old species discovered in the Canadian Arctic by a team co-led by Ted Daeschler, PhD, associate curator for vertebrate biology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and a Drexel University professor.
His discoveries have shed light on a pivotal point in the history of life on Earth: when the first fish ventured onto land.
Now, the extraordinary creature, also known as the “fishapod,” will be on public display from Saturday, May 2, through Sunday, June 7 at the Academy. The exhibit includes a touchable cast of the skull, a collection of items including toys that reference Tiktaalik, and a video of Daeschler’s appearance on the “Colbert Report” shortly after the discovery was announced in 2006 in the journal Nature.
On Wednesday, May 6, Daeschler will recount his amazing adventures—and hardships—during nine expeditions to Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, north of the Arctic Circle, where his team discovered Tiktaalik and many other fossils. Those nine trips also included ventures to explore Devonian-age formations across a wide swath of the Arctic Islands and into other geologic formations that Daeschler believes may harbor important new discoveries.
The illustrated presentation is free and begins at 7 p.m. Registration is available at farewelltofins.eventbrite.com.
On Sunday, June 7, the last day of the exhibit, there will be additional family activities, including hands-on games, crafts, a “Family Reunion” live animal show at 11 a.m., and a “Tick Tock Tiktaalik” interactive stage show at 3 p.m. At 1 p.m. Daeschler will share stories of his explorations in the inhospitable terrain of the Arctic. The events are free with regular admission. For details, visit ansp.org.
Tiktaalik is a link between the primitive fish and the first four-legged animals or tetrapods. It has been heralded as a textbook example of a transitional fossil, one that demonstrates a mix of features that helps connect the major branches in the tree of life.
After years of study and numerous scientific publications, Daeschler and his colleagues have revealed a plethora of useful information about the evolution of limbed animals, but it’s time to return Tiktaalik to the country of its origin, as agreed upon in their collecting permits.
Daeschler and co-discoverer Neil Shubin, PhD, of the University of Chicago, will drive the fossils of Tiktaalik and other Devonian-age creatures to Ottawa in late June. The specimens will be curated at the Canadian Museum of Nature, where they will continue to be available to researchers for further study.
To purchase museum tickets in advance, visit ansp.org.