Mistaken Identity

Well, this is a case of mistaken identity with a happy ending! Click the link to find out more, readers!

David Martill, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth had been asked to identify a large bone bought by a private collector, who suspected it might be part of a pterodactyl skull. Pictured: Professor Martill examines the large coelacanth fossil

Fossil of a 66-million-year-old fish ‘as big as a great white shark’ is discovered in a private collection after being misidentified as a flying reptile

  • A collector brought what he thought was a pterodactyl skull for identification
  • Paleontologists determined it was the bony lung of an ancient coelacanth
  • The fish would have been at least 16 feet long, the largest coelacanth recorded 
  • Its living descendants still have a lung, although it serves no practical purpose 


PUBLISHED: 19:31 EST, 15 February 2021 |

UPDATED: 09:41 EST, 16 February 2021

A fossil representing part of the largest example of an ancient deep-sea fish once thought to be extinct was recently found — entirely by mistake.

Paleontologists in the UK were given what they were told was a pterodactyl skull but, after a closer inspection, they realized that it was not a single bone.

Instead, it was many thin bony plates belonging to a coelacanth, a fish that evolved some 200 million years before the first dinosaurs and is still swimming around today.

One of the strangest aspects of the coelacanth is that it has a vestigial lung, possibly from a time when its ancestors crawled on land.

The researchers determined that the new fossil was the spindly lung bones of a coelacanth that lived approximately 66 million years ago.

Extrapolating from the size of the fossil lung, they concluded that the whole fish would have been at least 16 feet in length, larger than the modern great white shark.

Scientists long believed the coelacanth died out eons ago, until a living one was spotted in the waters off South Africa in the 1930s.

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