August 4, 2016
Living Fossils: Clues to the Past by Caroline Arnold, illustrated by Andrew Plant
Clues to the Past
by Caroline Arnold
illustrated by Andrew Plant
In 1938, a South African fisherman pulled a strange looking fish out of the sea. About five feet long, it was pale blue and had a blunt tail without the large fins of many fish. He gave the fish to a museum curator who sent a sketch of it to a professor who was an expert on fish. He was shocked. This catch looked very like a prehistoric ceolacanth, a fish that scientists believed had died out 65 million years earlier. He realized that the fish was a “living fossil.”
Arnold explains to readers that some scientists dislike the term, living fossil. The worry that people like you and I will think that this means that the animal or plant has not changed, that it is exactly like its prehistoric ancestor.
Throughout the book, Arnold writes up first the ancient animal, such as a horseshoe crab, and then the modern version. Although she doesn’t go into great detail about how they have changed, she does mention some details such as the modern dragonfly’s smaller size when compared to its prehistoric ancestor.
Added to the text are Plant’s illustration which show other changes such as the lack of dorsal spines on the modern horseshoe crab. Arnold’s acrylic paintings bring to life both the ancient world of the ancestral animals and the modern habitats of those on Earth today. From prey animals to habitat, the art expands on Arnold’s text by feeding the reader more information.
The backmatter of the book includes both a timelines of the Earth’s past as well as additional information about each animal depicted. In addition to coelacanth, horseshoe crabs and dragonflies, there are tuatra, chambered nautilus and the Hula painted frog. The one thing that I would have liked to see was information on plants, such as the ginko tree and cypress tree, that are also living fossils.
I would recommend this book both for the home library and for classroom use. It will appeal to young animal lovers as well as junior scientists and is sure to spark a wide range of discussions on habitat, evolution and prehistory.