A 380 million-year-old pregnant fossil has been discovered by researchers from University of Western Australia. The fossil was unearthed in the Kimberleys and contains a 6 cm embryo with its umbilical cord intact. Mother and baby belong to an extinct species of shark-like fish that could be found in lakes and seas for almost 70 million years before it disappeared. This is the oldest example of a mother of any species giving birth to live young.

This is also the first evidence of sex in vertebrates with jaws resulting in the oldest known example of a fish giving birth to live young rather than expelling a clutch of eggs,” says Dr Kate Trinajstic, Research Associate at the University of Western Australia, to News.com.au.

The fossilized species has been given the name Materpiscis attenboroughi. Mater is the Latin word for “mother” and piscis is the word for “fish”, so the genus name literary means mother-fish in Latin. The second part of the name, attenboroughi, is of course an homage to celebrated broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough. The fossilized fish belongs to the placoderm fishes, a group of fish commonly referred to as ’the dinosaurs of the seas’ since they dominated lakes and seas during the Middle Palaeozoic Era (c. 420 to 350 million years ago).

The fossil has now been given a new home at the Western Australian Museum.

Read the full story in Narelle Towie’s article at News.com.au. At this page, you can also see pictures of the fossil and drawings of what the fish might have looked like when it was still alive.


The fossil find was published in the science journal Nature on May 29 this year.