ZThe oological facilities offer people the rare chance to see some of the world’s most unique wildlife, often at risk. Large exhibits that feature charismatic mammals – reticulated giraffes, African elephants, jaguars, great apes, cetaceans (although that, thankfully, is changing) etc. – are generally the fauna that we assimilate to these animal parks. However… what if I told you that the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is not only home to the city’s oldest aquarium fish, but probably the whole country?
Meet Methuselah: the An Australian lungfish over 90 years old that entered San Francisco on a steamboat from Queensland, Australia in 1938.
Wednesday the Chronicle of San Francisco published a glorious profile on the magnetic fish which, in fact, uses both its lungs and primitive gills to sequester oxygen. (As the journal noted, the name “Methuselah” is a biblical nod to Noah’s grandfather, who lived to be 969 years old; the fish is now almost 4 feet long and weighs about 40 pounds, and will likely continue to grow taller [as most fish do the rest of their lives; they’re what we call animals without “predetermined growth” in biology]; she enjoys fruit snacks and belly massages.)
And what is equally captivating about the story of Methuselah in San Francisco is the evolutionary biology of the species of which it is a part.
The Australian lungfish, also known as the ‘Queensland lungfish’, due to their natural distribution in the slow-flowing basins and river systems of south-eastern Queensland, are among the oldest fish species known to science. , with a few examples, like Methuselah, living 90 years or more. The longest-lived Australian lungfish are believed to have been around a hundred years old. (Fuck our blue zones, am I right?)
They are also part of one of six species of lungfish still alive in the world and are the only surviving member of the genus. Neoceratodontidae. Four species of the genus Protopterus (family animals Protopteridae) are found in Africa; a species, Lepidosiren paradoxa (the only species in the family Lepidosirenidae) is found in South America; the Australian lungfish is the only species in the family Ceratodontidae – and is also among the stockiest of all known lungfish.
How did these fish get their primitive pulmonary systems, which are almost identical in function and structure to those of amphibians? They got rid of their swim bladder, which is why lungfish have pectoral and pelvic fins, as well as a single unpaired caudal fin replacing the dorsal, which appear slightly slender and reflect rudimentary limbs.
Because, yes: Lungfish are as good as walking in swampy wetlands because they glide through the shallow, slow-moving aquatic habitats they are found in.
It is not clear how old the species itself is. However, the fossil record of examples of this group has been carbon dated to 380 million years ago, around the time the higher vertebrate classes began to emerge on the planet – 170 million years before. that the first mammals wandered. Additionally, lungfish fossils have almost identical anatomies to those found today, suggesting that they have existed largely unchanged for over 100 million years.
Lungfish are not only primitive; they are among the oldest living vertebrates on this space rock.
But because humans are assholes, many species of lungfish that are still alive, including the Australian lungfish, are “endangered,” according to reports from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some are even “endangered” according to the IUCN, such as the Australian lungfish. All are currently facing human-facilitated habitat loss and mound threats to their riparian environments due to the climate crisis.
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The next time you are looking for an activity for a rainy day, pay a visit to Methuselah. And implore whatever Higher Power you choose to honor so that human greed does not deprive future generations of the chance to see members of his species mocking the petting of the belly.