Science

Ancient Fish Fossil Found By A Young Tourist

The 90-million-year-old ancient fish fossil doesn’t correspond to any known fish species. The discovery by a young tourist in Colombia marks a discovery of an intact deep water fish which lived during the Cretaceous period.

Ancient Fish Fossil
Image Source: Oksana Vernygora | Folio | University of Alberta

A young, 10-year-old Rio Santiago Dolmetsch discovered the ancient fish fossil when he was on a walking tour of the Monastery of La Candelaria in Colombia. He discovered the shape of a fish located on one of the flagstones on the ground. He took a picture of it and revealed it to the staff of a local museum a few days later.

The staff at the museum easily recognized it is as the shape of a fish fossil in the photo and shared the findings with other colleagues. It turns out that the local museum, Centro de Investigaciones Palentologicas, is in cooperation with researchers from the University of Alberta. The collaboration includes protecting and conducting studies on fossils located in the region.

The team of researchers then went to Colombia and found the flagstone suspected to contain the ancient fish fossil. They discovered it to be an extinct ancient fish, which was almost in a perfectly fossilized shape. The fish is now sequenced as the Candelarhynchus padillai, which is believed to be a 90-million-year-old intact fish, which doesn’t have more modern relatives.

This is the first fossil found of a “lizard fish” which belongs to the Cretaceous period, in Colombia. Even after being on the walkway of a monastery for 15 years, the ancient fish fossil looks nearly perfectly preserved. The fossil found in Colombia is very rare for that region as well.

Aside from being an extremely rare find, the preserved fossil is of critical importance to understanding fossil records in tropical areas, but also to comprehension of fish diversity. The researchers actually believe that the fossil fish relevance is very underestimated, although with different research they are trying to understand the ancient fish. That way, they might even discover a way to understand how the fish managed to adjust to the transition of the environment.

“Studying fish diversity gives us amazing predicting power for the future–especially as we start to see the effects of climate change,”  Oksana Vernygora, PhD, lead author of the paper published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology said in a statement.

“It is rare to find such a complete fossil of a fish from this moment in the Cretaceous period. Deepwater fish are difficult to recover, as well as those from environments with fast flowing waters,” Vernygora added. “But what surprises me the most is that, after 15 years of being on a walkway, it was still intact. It’s amazing.”

It is worth mentioning that the discovery of the ancient fish fossil is not the first fossil uncovered by a young child. Some time ago, Jude Sparks, a 9-year-old boy discovered a “tusk” which was later sequenced as the fossilized remains of a 1.2 million-year-old stegomastodon, when he was playing with his siblings.