PA – Tiktaalik roseae on display

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April 23, 2014 by Dr. G

It is funny how some topics that I teach come back around in new and exciting ways… take, for example, the Tiktaalik roseae, the 375-million year old “fishapod” (OK, scientifically, we officially refer to this fossil specimen as a tetrapod).  It was discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 2004, and this fossil pushes back in time when we believe fish were able to make the transition to living in the water to moving around and living on land.

In Spring 2009, I taught GEOSC 021, a general education course for non-science majors called Earth & Life.  One of the books the class read that semester was Your Inner Fish by Dr. Neil Shubin, one of the discoverers of the Tiktaalik roseae.  One of the other scientists involved in the discovery was Dr. Ted Daeschler, a paleontologist with the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  It just so happens that the timing that semester was perfect – while we were reading and learning about Tiktaalik, the real fossil specimen was “visiting” the Academy!  So the class grabbed the regional rail train in to the city, and Dr. Daeschler was kind enough to give us a lecture and behind-the-scenes tour to see the Tiktaalik fossil and other fossils in their collection.  This trip was one of the highlights of my teaching experience, certainly “the” top moment for GEOSC 021!

Flash forward to 2014, where Tiktaalik reappears for a 3-part PBS special and a limited-time display at the Academy of Natural Sciences!  The original Tiktaalik fossil bones were in glass cases in the Academy’s Ewell Sale Stewart Library.  Here, I share some of the photos I was able to capture of the fossils, and I have provided some links to information about the television mini-series below the images.  If you want to see the fossil for yourself, you will need to get to the Academy by April 30, 2014, and the Library is only open to visitors from 1PM to 4PM.  It is absolutely worth the trip!

Two display cases in the Library display real pieces of the fossil.

Two display cases in the Library display real pieces of Tiktaalik.


This fossil specimen, NUFV 111, is part of the snout of Tiktaalik.  When this specimen was collected in 2002, it was the first good clue that the site might produce fossils of animals at the fish-to-tetrapod transition.


The skull of NUFV #109, largest of the known specimens of Tiktaalik, shows the roof of the mouth (palate) very well.  The lower jaw is also very well preserved.


This is the best-known specimen of NUFV #108.  It was collected in 2004.  It is the most complete skeleton discovered and the first to be studied in detail.  As a result it has been designated as the holotype of Tiktaalik roseae, the standard to which any comparison must be made.


Here is a close-up of the finned limb that brought Tiktaalik out of the water and on to land.


See the following resources for more about this fascinating fossil!

  • A three-part series on PBS titled “Your Inner Fish” reveals how our bodies are the legacy of fish, reptile, and primate ancestors. Video clips, interactives, an image gallery, and classroom resources are available at:
  • Have you read the book?  Visit the book website for more information, slides, etc.

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