The father of evolution, Charles Darwin, was the first to coin the term ‘living fossil’ in the pioneering book On The Origin Of Species in 1859. He used the term to describe living species bearing a physical resemblance to prehistoric species that once roamed Earth.
However, categorising animals as ‘living fossils’ has caused controversy in the scientific community because it implies that some of today’s species have stopped evolving and remain unchanged from their ancient ancestors.
The truth about ‘living fossil’ species, such as crocodiles, is that they have very similar characteristics to a species that lived millions of years ago, rather than being unevolved for millions of years. To be classed as a living fossil a species must have had a significantly slower rate of physical evolution or show subtle morphological (physical) changes.
As evolutionary echoes, these modern-day doppelgängers give researchers a glimpse into their prehistoric timelines and offer suggestions as to why their morphology has gone almost unchanged for so long.
New additions to these evolutionary elites are still being discovered. In 2002, researchers unearthed the fossil remains of what was first believed to be a prehistoric chimpanzee in Barcelona. However, last year, after careful analysis, it was deduced that the fossils belonged to a giant flying squirrel (Miopetaurista neogrivensis), dating back 11.6 million years ago.