Skull analysis of Qingmenodus offers insight into creatures between pre-lobed fish and tetrapods (Update)

June 6, 2016 by Bob Yirka, report
Qingmendous, a 409 million-year-old predatory fish provides unique insights into early the evolution of modern lobe-finned fishes. Credit: Life restoration drawn by Brian Choo (Flinders University, Australia)

(—A team of researchers working at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has uncovered new characteristics of Qingmenodus, an Onychodont that lived during the time between fish without lobed fins and tetrapods. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team describes their study of the fish and discuss its possible place in the evolutionary history of the creatures that eventually made their way onto land.

Onychodonts lived approximately 400 million years ago, which means their fossil remains are few and far between, and study of those that have been found has not always been very productive. Still, scientists have found evidence of very ancient primitive that did not have lobed fins and evidence of less primitive fish with fully formed lobed fins (necessary for the development of fins that could be used to initially walk about on land), but have not had much luck in finding fish samples that represent the time between these other two groups. This has led to lively debates among early life scholars regarding the evolutionary tree regarding all of the various fishes that eventually led to the ones that actually crawled out of the sea to become our true ancestors. Recently, however, a good sample was found, the remains of a 409 million year Qingmenodus—in China—and more importantly, it had a well-ossified skull. To get a good look at it, inside and out, the team used high-resolution tomography to capture images of the internal structures of the braincase, which allowed them to reconstruct the cranial endocast.

The team reports that the brain structure of Qingmenodus was similar in some respects to lungfish (a modern fish that has lungs and lives in mud) and other osteolepiforms (prehistoric lobe-finned fish), it had other clear differences as well—the brain case was elongated and it had well-developed processus connectens, which the researchers suggest was closer in nature to coelacanths (prehistoric large bony fish with fleshy pectoral fins).

The team suggests further study of the Qingmenodus sample, and others that have been found may help piece together the relationship between Onychodonts, other prehistoric fish and more specifically, those that eventually climbed out of the sea and slowly evolved into land dwelling creatures.

Explore further: Oldest actinopterygian from China provides new evidence for origin of ray-finned fishes

More information: J. Lu et al. A Devonian predatory fish provides insights into the early evolution of modern sarcopterygians, Science Advances (2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600154

Crown or modern sarcopterygians (coelacanths, lungfishes, and tetrapods) differ substantially from stem sarcopterygians, such as Guiyu and Psarolepis, and a lack of transitional fossil taxa limits our understanding of the origin of the crown group. The Onychodontiformes, an enigmatic Devonian predatory fish group, seems to have characteristics of both stem and crown sarcopterygians but is difficult to place because of insufficient anatomical information. We describe the new skull material of Qingmenodus, a Pragian (~409-million-year-old) onychodont from China, using high-resolution computed tomography to image internal structures of the braincase. In addition to its remarkable similarities with stem sarcopterygians in the ethmosphenoid portion, Qingmenodus exhibits coelacanth-like neurocranial features in the otic region. A phylogenetic analysis based on a revised data set unambiguously assigns onychodonts to crown sarcopterygians as stem coelacanths. Qingmenodus thus bridges the morphological gap between stem sarcopterygians and coelacanths and helps to illuminate the early evolution and diversification of crown sarcopterygians.

Related Stories

Walking fish reveal how our ancestors evolved onto land

August 27, 2014

About 400 million years ago a group of fish began exploring land and evolved into tetrapods – today's amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. But just how these ancient fish used their fishy bodies and fins in a terrestrial ...

Lungfish provides insight to life on land

October 4, 2011

A study into the muscle development of several different fish has given insights into the genetic leap that set the scene for the evolution of hind legs in terrestrial animals. This innovation gave rise to the tetrapods—four-legged ...

Recommended for you

Study sheds new light on ancient human-turkey relationship

January 17, 2018

For the first time, research has uncovered the origins of the earliest domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico. The study also suggests turkeys weren't only prized for their meat—with demand for the birds soaring with the Mayans ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2016
It is a (seemingly firm) observation of relationship, not a suggestion as the article author wants to have it:

"A phylogenetic analysis based on a revised data set unambiguously assigns onychodonts to crown sarcopterygians as stem coelacanths. Qingmenodus thus bridges the morphological gap between stem sarcopterygians and coelacanths",
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2016
The name of the fish is consistently misspelled as 'Qingmendous' in the body of this article. The correct spelling is 'Qingmenodus' as can be seen in the abstract for the source article.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.