“Living fossil” is really a term used to describe animals that look very similar to their ancestral relatives known in the fossil record. In actuality, all species experience genetic drift so species today are actually completely different from their ancestors of the past (so they are just superficially similar). But still, they appear very much the same, exhibit much the same behavior, and have the same body plan.
If you might prefer to go looking for real fossils, then there are numerous superb places in the United States and beyond to look at. Mistaken Point in Canada's Newfoundland is especially significant because of its rich collection of fossils. But if you might want to see a number of today's “living fossils” which have been in the fossil record for countless years, here are some ideas. They offer a window into the creatures from the distant past.
The Tuatara of New Zealand
At first glance, the Tuatara looks just like another lizard, but it is far from a lizard. It is the sole survivor of the very distinct lineage from the order Rhynchocephalia. This lineage goes back 250 million years to the Triassic period (the start of the dinosaurs).
- Found: In New Zealand
While it superficially resembles lizards, the Tuatara's largest common ancestor together was a group known as the squadmates – that includes both lizards and snakes. That means lizards and snakes tend to be more closely related to one another compared to the Tuatara.
There are only one types of tuatara today and therefore are notable to have a third eye (although it doesn't really function nor is it particularly visible).
- Length: Up To 80 cm (31 in) from head to tail tip
- Weight: Up To 1.3 kg (2.9 lb)
Today they are extinct on the main islands of New Zealand (its northern border Island and South Island) and therefore are limited to 32 small offshore islands.
They can be seen in New Zealand's “Zealandia” wildlife sanctuary and in the Southland Museum and Art Gallery (free entry).
Zealandia is a lush very fenced forest to help keep out pests that's the place to find over 40 rare species of native wildlife and is home to over 150 kiwi birds roaming free.
- General Admission: Adult $23 NZD – $16 USD
- Opening Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
The Echidnas Of Australia
One from the strangest types of mammals may be the monotremes. These are egg-laying mammals whose surviving members only range from the Echidnas and the platypus. These spiny creatures may look like a hedgehog or an anteater but they are not related at all.
- Monotremes: Egg-Laying Mammals That just Includes Echidnas and Platypus
- Found: Around australia and New Guinea
Today there are four extant species of echidnas living in Australia and New Guinea. They evolved between 20 and 50 million years back and are thought to have descended from a platypus-like monotreme. This means that the echidna's ancestor was aquatic – but they have since adapted to live life on land.
To see the best of native Australian wildlife, consider visiting Australia Zoo – the zoo from the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
Horseshoe Crabs Of The Atlantic Coast
Horseshoe crabs really are a very curious ancient lineage of arthropods. They are today the only real living members of the order Xiphosura and are not associated with crabs or crustaceans but nearer to arachnids (spiders etc.).
Horseshoe crabs live primarily around shallow coastal waters on soft, sandy or muddy bottoms. They're eaten in japan as well as their population has been in decline recently.
Their fossil record goes back so far as 480 million years back and is truly ancient. They also normally swim upsize down.
- Blood: Their Blood Is Blue And They Are Harvested For his or her Blood for Scientific Research
- Fossil Record: 480 Million Years
- Species: You will find Four Species Of Horseshoe Crab
- Where To determine: The Atlantic Coast of North America, The Indian and Pacific Oceans
Their blood also has special properties and is harvested for scientific research. Because of the copper contained in hemocyanin, their blood is blue as well as their blood contains amebocytes. Around 500,000 of them are harvested annually for this – but scientists are careful to not take an excessive amount of blood, and many survive it and therefore are released back into the wild.
They are located along the Atlantic coast from the United states coastline as well as along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico. Other species live in the Indian Ocean as well as in the Gulf of mexico along the coast of Asia.
Other “living fossils” include the red panda, the alligator snapping turtle, crocodiles, Asian forest tortoise, the nautilus, jawless fish (hagfish and lamprey), pelicans, and much more. These are all animals whose form hasn't changed much in an exceedingly very long time.