cover image Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth

Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth

Keith Stewart Thomson, Author W. W. Norton & Company $19.95 (252p) ISBN 978-0-393-02956-7

The 1938 discovery of a strange, five-foot, 250-pound fish off the coast of South Africa excited the scientific community worldwide. Identified as Latimeria chalumnae , a coelacanth, the fish was previously known only in the fossil record of the Cretaceous period. In 1952 a second specimen was caught in the western Indian Ocean off the Comoro Islands, then a French territory. The authorities allowed only French scientists access to the fish, but after the islands' independence in the mid-'70s, the fish became more widely available for research. Thomson, director of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, studied the first fresh-frozen specimen and has written an intriguing biological detective story, tracing the coelacanth's morphology and biology, and placing it in the evolutionary scale. Illustrations. (June)