Tiktaalik roseae, the 375-million-year-old species discovered in the Canadian Artic, is a link between primitive fish and the first four-legged animals or tetrapods. It will be on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University from Saturday, May 2 through Sunday, June 7, before heading to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. Wanting to know more about this fossil, I contacted Ted Daeschler, PhD, the associate curator for vertebrate biology at the Academy and a Drexel University professor.
Will Tiktaalik be staying in Canada or will it return to the Academy?
Ted Daeschler: Everything that we have collected up in Canada has been cataloged and curated for the Canadian Museum of Nature. The fossils belong to Canada, and part of our scientific permitting is that when we discover things, we bring them to Philadelphia for fossil preparation and research. It takes a lot of time and effort to do the first round of research projects. There is more than one fossil of Tiktaalik; there are about 50 specimens. They’re not all complete skeletons, but we have three or four that are associated skulls, shoulders, and fins. We’ve collected a whole suite of material, but the most important, the most complete, and the most well preserved specimen is the one that will be on display.
We have had a sort of exclusive, unwritten, opportunity to work on this stuff with the clear understanding that the material is cataloged in Canada and will go back to Canada. If we want to do more research on Tiktaalik, we could borrow specimens or go to Ottawa, and so can other scientists.
Did having Tiktaalik help bring the Academy to the forefront as a place of research?
Ted Daeschler: The Academy has it public exhibition side and it has its research side. There’s a lot of interaction and synergy between the public and research sides but with a discovery like Tiktaalik, which did get a lot of popular and scientific attention, it has brought additional attention to the Academy. But there’s so much good science that goes on here, Tiktaalik just happens to have been work that got more public recognition of the science. It didn’t make the Academy millions of dollars from people coming to see the specimen. It hasn’t had a huge impact on finances, but I do think it has a big reputational impact, especially among professional scientists.
The Academy is kind of a quiet place. We don’t blow our own horn that much. Whether its research on diatoms or fossils or mollusks or birds, etc., we know that we do really good science. To answer your question, I think that Tiktaalik among many other things that the Academy does, helps build the respect of this venerable old institution that has had respect for centuries.
Will you be giving a lecture on Tiktaalik?
Ted Daeschler: On Wednesday evening, May 6, at 7:00pm. there will be a public lecture on the impact of Tiktaalik coming from a scientific and personal level
On the last day of the exhibit, Sunday, June 7, there will be additional family activities, including hands-on games, crafts, a ‘Family Reunion’ live animal show at 11 a.m. and a ‘Tick Tock Tiktaalik’ interactive stage show at 3 p.m. I will also be giving a talk that will be more geared to families at 1 p.m. The events are free with regular admission. For details, visit www.ansp.org
Farewell to Fins
Saturday, May 2 through Sunday, June 7
Lecture on Tiktaalik Fossil
Wednesday, May 6, 7:00pm
@ The Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway