A missing link?

September 27, 2010

Torah Kachur

The constant moaning of creationists for fossils showing a 'missing link' or transition species between the different evolutionary forms is misleading.  The idea that there exists some perfect half-way point in an evolutionary process is ridiculous and irresponsible.  Except when you find a perfect 'missing link' and scientists puff up their chests and say "I told you so".


Case in point - the handfish. 


          Torah Kachur Science in Seconds Blog A missing link handfish


Definitely ugly and clearly strange, the handfish have been recently categorized as their own species of fish and are found in the shallows of Southeastern Australia.  These fish don't swim but instead walk along the sea floor using their 'hands'.  The first thing most people think of when they see this dude in action - "Wow, this MUST be the transition species from sea to land".


Life evolved in the sea and then moved to colonize land about 530 million years ago.  In order to leave the ocean, the adventurous little tykes had to be able to prop themselves up on land, deal with the changing osmotic environment and drastic temperature changes.  These conditions seem insurmountable for one little primitive creature to think about braving the new world.  But, animals then weren't nearly as lazy as humans today and they didn't just set up shop on land in one generation.  The transition of animals from sea to land probably took millions of years and trillions of generations - which is lots of time for the beneficial mutations to accumulate.


That leaves us with the handfish - it isn't that hard to imagine these guys walking up on the beach to say hello.  Except, these aren't some blast from the past or a "missing link".  They are just cool fish.


The type of animal that likely left the ocean for forays on land were likely medium sized centipedes, not bony fish like the handfish.  These centipede things probably found a whole  new territory when they ventured out of the depths - a whole new ecosystem that provided escape from predators or possibly more stable food supply.  In other words, it was beneficial therefore the traits that allowed the multi-footed creature to survive outside the water were maintained.


Perfect transition species between some evolutionary destination or "missing links" don't exist.  And the handfish isn't one of them.



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