Latimeria chalumnaeCoelacanth(Also: Latimeria; Old four legs)

Geographic Range

Off the coast of South Africa from Madagascar southward.

  • Biogeographic Regions
  • indian ocean


Latimeria live in deep (apprx. 400m), cool(15-17 degrees centigrade), marine water. They generally inhabit lava beds.

Physical Description

Latimeria has a single, large, elongated, pseudo-lung filled with fat, a vertually linear heart, shark-like intestines with a spiral valve, and an axial skeleton composed only of a hollow tube of cartilage called a notocord. They possess hinges in their skulls that allow then to consume large prey. Latimeria also has a special electroreceptive device called a rosteral organ in the front of the skull . Their color ranges from brown to dark blue, but it is believed that no two fish have exactly the same pattern. They are particularly mucilaginous; not only do the scales exude mucus, but their bodies continually ooze a large quantity of oil.

  • Average mass
    80 kg
    176.21 lb
  • Average mass
    52250 g
    1841.41 oz


Latimeria are ovoviparous; adults locate eachother for breeding with their electro-receptive rosteral organs.


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    48 years


Latimeria stands on its head, swims backwards and belly up to locate its prey with the rosteral gland. Scientists suspect that one reason Latimeria has been so successful is that they can slow down their metabolisms at any time, sinking into the less-inhabited depths and minimizing their nutritional requirements.

Food Habits

All that is known about the food habits of Latimeria is that they are carnivorous, feeding primarily on fish and squid. They have a rosteral organ in the front of their skulls that emits electromagnetic waves, used to detect prey.

Conservation Status

We have no real estimate on the Latimeria population; enough of them have been caughtto suggest that there may be undiscovered populations in other locations in the Indian Ocean and perhaps elswhere.

Other Comments

Latimeria is a fish that had supposedly been extinct for over 60 million years. The most important aspect of its sensational discovery was that an early form related to Latimeria, Eustheonopteron, is believed to have been the ancestor of all modern amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.


Robin Street (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic vent

Areas of the deep sea floor where continental plates are being pushed apart. Oceanic vents are places where hot sulfur-rich water is released from the ocean floor. An aquatic biome.


Frick, Hans. 1988. National Geographic. vol. 173:824-838.

Herald, Earl S. 1962. Living Fishes of the World. Doubleday, Inc.

Migdalski, Edward C. 1976. The Fresh Salt Water Fishes of the World. Alfred A. Knopf Inc. New York.