In 1999, palaeontologists Professor Neil Shubin, from the University
of Chicago, and Professor Edward Daeschler, from the Academy of
Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, set out to explore the Canadian
Arctic in an attempt to find the "missing link" that would explain
the transition from water to land.
After several years of searching with very little success, they
hit the jackpot in 2004.
"The really remarkable find came when one of the crew found a
snout of a flat-headed animal sticking out of the side of a cliff -
that is totally what you want to find because if you are at all
lucky the rest of the skeleton is back in the cliff," said Professor
The team found three near-complete, well-preserved fossils of the
new species, Tiktaalik roseae, in an area of the Arctic called the
Nunavut Territory. The largest measures almost 3m (9 ft) in length.
"When we got back into the lab we removed the rock from the bone,
and we began to find some really significant stuff," Professor
The creature shares some characteristics with a fish; it has fins
with webbing, and scales on its back.
But it also has many features in common with land animals. It has
a flat crocodile-like head with eyes positioned on top and the
beginnings of a neck - something not seen in fish.
"When we look inside the fin, we see a shoulder, we see an elbow,
and we see an early version of a wrist, which is very similar to
that of all animals that also walk on land," said Professor Shubin.