\ Visualizing Evolution: Ventastega curonica

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ventastega curonica

From Science News, a newly described fossil gives evidence of the transition from fish to land-dwelling tetrapods. This is Ventastega curonica, from the late Devonian (365 million years ago) of Latvia, in a recent article in the journal Nature. It's the most primitive Devonian tetrapod, and is intermediate transitional form between Tiktaalik (our favorite early tetrapod) and the later Devonian tetrapods like Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. So I guess it's a fishomander, of sorts?

Alas! One more missing link means two more gaps in the fossil record!

Anyway, to stay on topic, here is the illustration being shown on all the news sites:
Illustration by Philip Renne - click for big

He looks so happy! I had to piece this together since most of the news sites are showing a cropped version sans the bottom-dwelling Bothriolepis in the background, and the only full-version I could find has poor resolution. And Philip Renne doesn't seem to have a website, unless all the media sites are mispelling his name, in which case, Philip, I appologize for my lack of link.

Anyway, I like the painting itself. It's colorful, has a nice balance, looks like it may have been designed for a book cover. But we're missing the most important part of the animal. The innovations of Ventastega are in its legs, and all we get to see here is the big smiley head! Man, that reflection on the eyeball is nice, though. And the angle is so dynamic; I feel like I'm right there in the water with him!

Here's an illustration from Devonian Times showing the nearly complete braincase, shoulder girdle, and partial pelvis:
Illustration by Dennis C. Murphy

Maybe the reason the illustrations don't show details of the foot is we don't have them represented by fossils.

I'd never browsed Devonian Times before; their illustrations have a lovely consistency: black sillouette with red bones. Check out the pages for Tiktaalik, Ventastega, Ichthyostega, and Acanthostega. The site makes it really easy to compare fossil forms. Though I would have put them in chronological and not alphabetical order.

I'm going to try to track down the full Nature article at the library this weekend, so hopefully another update on Ventastega will follow.

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