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This is my first attempt at a work of natural history. And perhaps the last. These posts will be, for the most part, poorly structured and riddled with erroneous and/or obsolete terminology. I will frequently digress from my larger narrative of vertebrate evolution to discuss related subjects within the field of comparative anatomy that I may deem interesting or instructive.
But this work will be accessible – even to the layman who has heretofore had no interest in the fossilized artifacts of deep time.
I must admit that I have little experience/professional training in the fields of Geology, Zoology or Paleontology. This blog is a personal project (or a manifestation of my enormous ego – take your pick). I will, nonetheless, try my level best to substantiate my posts with citations from credible sources. Please feel free to point out any patently false claims I may make in the ensuing paragraphs. I am an enthusiast, not a professor -this work will not be written in scholarly prose and is not backed by years of dedicated research. I will even dispense with the abstruse Taxonomic jargon and cladistics that vertebrate Paleontologists seem to revel in (Gasp!). Any terminology I do use will be rigorously and concisely defined – and supplemented with diagrams.
Think of the writings below as spiffed-up notes (ala Politics) rather than a finished literary product (ala The Republic).
Why should I be interested in ancient animals?
I freely admit that there is no immediate utility to the study of prehistoric creatures (formally called Paleozoology). It is unlikely that methodically sifting through fragments of Devonian aged rocks looking for conodont microfossils will ever yield life-saving drugs or ways of stymying air pollution.
But, I imagine that all of us - even those who have not been formally ‘initiated’ into the sciences - have some interest in the natural world (and I use this phrase in the broadest possible sense) – the laws by which it is bound, the objects that populate it (be they atoms or stars or, in our next case, fish) and the changes that have taken place within it over the course of its history.
Segway to the fishes
Fish presently constitute the most successful and diverse vertebrate group on the planet. All living land vertebrates are descended from fish. We still possess numerous Ichthyic anatomical legacies within our bodies to this day (recounted quite elegantly by Neil Shubin in his book: Your Inner Fish). The story of the origins of fishes is the story of our own most remote origins. Homo sapiens are, after all, a sort of brainy, warm-blooded, bipedal lobe-finned fish.
If nothing else, you may see the next few posts as a very lengthy answer to such meandering questions as:
- Where do fish come from?
- How did the first vertebrates walk on land?
- What did oceans and continents look like 300 million years ago?
- Where do the first vertebrates come from?
- Why are vertebrates so much quicker and more energy-efficient than (most of) their spineless counterparts? How did it get that way?
- Has the distribution and constitution of Ocean ecosystems remained roughly constant over geologic time?
- How similar are fish to human beings – anatomically speaking?
- Do mammals have gills?
- How big, how ferocious and how bizarre did prehistoric fish get?
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