Living Fossils

Did You Know…?

  • …that the earliest fossils of turtles date from the time of the dinosaurs, but they have changed little over the centuries.
  • … that coelacanth fossils have been found in both freshwater and saltwater deposits.
  • … that turtles live longer than most animals. They often live 50 years in captivity. One is known to have lived more than 100 years.
  • … that caelacanths do not walk on its lobed fins as scientiests had concluded from studying the fossils.
  • … that fossils of horseshoe crabs are identical to those found on beaches today, and their habits are as unchanged over the years as their bodies.

Scientists who study the origin of life on Planet Earth have written volumes in an effort to explain how the millions of living creatures we know today have over millions of years evolved from a single animal not as large as the period at the end of this sentence. According to one theory, the properties necessary to life were formed spontaneously in the warm water of the sea some four billion or more years ago.

As to how something so complex as life developed from nonlife, “there is no clear-cut answer,” says one writer. Nevertheless, it is accepted that life began when a tiny one-celled animal started to grow and multiply.

In 1953, research scientists succeeded in duplicating “the building blocks of proteins—the basic constituents of living matter” in the laboratory. It was assumed that “after this first step toward explaining the appearance of living things had been taken,… the others would have followed easily,” and many scientists joined the race to synthesize living matter in the laboratory. To date no one has succeeded. Says one writer, “The problem of how the first living organism was formed has still to be solved.” We believe that it rests with the knowledge of the Creator. God had no need to put a patent on the secret of life, because only He can produce it.

Among the points of evidence often cited to support belief in evolution are fossils of various plants and animals now extinct, which are thought to have supplied vital links in the progression of development between the species. A certain fossil is usually identifiable with a certain period of time in the history of the earth, and identifies a specific type of life at that point. Given many millions of years, according to the theory of evolution, these forms of life changed, sea animals gradually developed the body parts needed by land animals, walked out upon the land, where the progress continued, and more and more different types of animals developed as they were ideally suited to the conditions in which they lived. This is a highly simplified explanation, but our underlying question is this: If certain fossils identify certain types of life as they were many years ago, and from that point by the process of evolution other life forms developed, should not the progress continue? And should not the earlier life forms, being less adapted to their environment, become extinct?

Theoretically this is true. In actual fact, time has given scientists numerous surprises.

For example, fossils of the common house fly and the lowly ant have been found which are nearly exact replicas of the ones that made their way into our kitchens only last summer. Fossils of seashells have been found embedded in layers of rock laid down millions of years ago, the duplicates of which can be found on almost any seashore today. Tiny coquinas, clam shells of all sizes, starfish, conchs—all known today—have been found fossilized in rock in the most unlikely locations where they must have lived millions of years ago. What is the answer?

a coquina

The Coelacanth (pronounced cee’-la-kanth)

A classic example is the six-foot long coelacanth, a fish which because of its unusual lobe fins was counted as an important link in the progression from sea to land animals. Frozen in stone, fossilized remains of the coelacanth have been identified in deposits dating back nearly 400 million years. No fossil specimen ever found was thought to be less than 60 million years old, leading scientists to believe that the coelacanths became extinct around that time.

Then in 1938 a South African fishing troller brought up a very strange (and unknown) variety of fish that had been drifting along the floor of the Indian Ocean at a depth of about 600 feet. The professor who was found to identify it said that his surprise would have been little greater had he suddenly looked up to see a dinosaur walking down the street—this fish was thought to have died out with the dinosaurs!

The fossil which evolutionists had explained was the sure link in the chain from sea to land creatures, with its large limb-like fins and stocky body (its forward fins could have easily become arms and its other pair would have become legs; or possibly the four fins together could have become the four legs of the earliest land animals)—suddenly the whole explanation lacked foundation. If the fish was still in existence—which no one could deny—did some of its kind evolve into other creatures and some remain the same? For the fish that had been caught was identical to its fossil!

The search began for a second coelacanth, so that the fish’s habits could be studied. A second one was not seen until 1952, but since then more than 100 have been caught in the Indian Ocean. In 1987, an underwater team was able to study its habits at a depth of more than 600 feet, where it was seen still swimming by moving its limb-like fins—hardly like a four-legged land animal. Evolutionists who had studied the fossils had speculated that the fish probably braced its fins against the sea bottom, and used them in a sort of “walking” maneuver—just a “step” away from walking land animals. But observers of the live fish determined that the fish used its fins to swim, not walk. Commented the scientist making the observations, “I’m sorry, we never saw Old Four Legs (the nickname given to the coelacanth) walk on its fins. Alas, that does not seem to be the case.”

How could this fish (also called “the fish that time forgot”) have endured such an immense span of time with so little change? Only our Creator knows.

Meanwhile, the evolutionists’ search for the vital link creature that could emerge from the water and walk or crawl upon the land must continue. Says the leader of the team that observed the fish, “For every myth we’ve dispelled, I’m certain there are a dozen fascinating discoveries still to be made. We have just begun to know the coelacanth.”

The Cockroach

Another example of a living fossil is the cockroach. According to one writer, “it was here to welcome the dinosaurs, and it was here to bid them good-bye.” In spite of all our efforts to eliminate it, it survives basically unchanged. Fossils of cockroaches found in Coal Age deposits believed to have been laid down from 300 to 350 million years ago look no different than those seen today.

We have no good feeling for the creatures, but in the insect world they are really quite fastidious, spending hours washing their feet, legs and antennae. Why have they survived these millions of years unchanged? If the theory of the evolutionists is true, why have they not progressed into some other type of animal? Why do they today look identical to the fossils that are millions of years old? Clearly the evolutionists do not have all the answers. Perhaps the cockroaches’ ability to survive may be due to their tolerance of extremes of holding cold and heat—they will even revive after being frozen.

We think of cockroaches only as pests, but they have some limited value. Of the more than 3500 known species, less than one percent inhabit homes. Most live in trees, in palm fronds, and in dead vegetation of the ground.

Because of their hardiness and rapid breeding, cockroaches have also proved valuable in cancer and heart disease research projects, also in nutrition studies. In recent years they have been included in space missions. In fact, they are the “astronaut supreme,” being able to withstand more than 100 times the radiation that a human can endure. They also have high resistance to the effects of gravity. Humans black out at 12 g’s (a “g” is a unit of force equal to the force exerted by gravity on a body at rest, which must be overcome when the body is moved). The cockroach has withstood 120 g’s for four hours—and continued to live.

The Horseshoe Crab

Another creature that has survived relatively unchanged over the centuries is the horseshoe crab. It was once called the “horse-foot crab” because it resembles the horse’s hoof as much as a horseshoe. It is easily recognized by its shell and its six inch tail spine. At the time of the exploration of the United States, explorers found the Indians using the tails for the point of a fish spear. The crab itself finds the tail useful, for when it is tossed onto the beach on its back by a wave it uses its tail to turn itself over. Fossils of almost identical crabs have been found in the rock record dating back over the last 190 million years. And says the naturalist, “Probably the habits of horseshoe crabs are as unchanged as their bodies.” (No evolution here.)

From the coast of Nova Scotia to the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico, horseshoe crabs clamber up on the beaches each spring to lay their eggs. After burying their eggs in the sand, they return to the deeper water. During the rest of the year, they roam the bottom scavenging in the deep water for mussels and marine worms on which they feed.

courtesy of NOAA and

The Turtle

Another fossilized creature found existing today is the turtle, said to be among the oldest reptile fossils known. Turtles were also thought to have been around when the last dinosaur died. The fossils of these turtles are exactly like turtles that live in the jungles of South America today (Where is the evidence for evolution here?).

There are about 200 species of turtles known, ranging in size all the way from the four-inch mud turtle to the giant sea turtle that may be more than six feet in length and weigh as much as half a ton.

Habitats vary. Some are land turtles; some live in water or alternate between water and land. The giant sea turtles leave the warm water of the ocean only long enough to dig a hole in the sand on the shore, lay their eggs, bury them and return to the water, just as generations before them have done.

The turtle is encased in a protective shell made of bony plates. These plates are fused to underlying bones, leaving only the limbs, neck and tail free. All turtles can retract into their shell to some extent, but the small box turtle can retract its head, legs and tail completely and tightly close the hinged front and back halves of its shell for protection when it senses danger.

The turtle has no ears for hearing, but is exceptionally sensitive to touch and withdraws instantly at the slightest touch. The turtle also has keen eyesight, as well as an acute sense of smell and taste. The snapping turtle does not have a complete armor (it is unprotected underneath) but compensates with its powerful jaws.

Geoffroys side-necked turtle of S. America

Who can say that all these just happened? Why are we able to find an animal living today which is identical to its fossilized remains which are millions of years old? How does such information fit into the evolutionary picture at all?

Did an animal both evolve and stay the same? The basic idea underlying evolution is the “survival of the fittest.” If the original (known by its fossil) was able to survive through 30 million generations or more unchanged, why did evolution take place at all?

May not living fossils be part of the evidence God has provided to show us that He is the Master Designer, Creator, and Sustainer of all that lives and moves?

Also, if the animals that existed many millions of years ago developed into others, should we not see intermediate stages of development? But, strangely, none exist.

How the Creator works is beyond the scope of our knowledge. We can only say, “The hand that made them is Divine.”

For the scientific data in this article we are indebted to the following sources:

  • G. Minelli, The Evolution of Life; Marvels and Mysteries of Our Animal World, Readers Digest Association; Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia, Copyright 1993-94.
  • D. Alderton, “Turtles of the World” (1988), from The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1995.
  • Hans Fricke, “Coelacanths: The Fish That Time Forgot,” in National Geographic Magazine, June 1988, pp. 824-838.