Fun Coelacanth Facts For Kids

Oluwatosin Michael
Oct 20, 2022 By Oluwatosin Michael
Originally Published on Aug 06, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
One of the most tragic coelacanth facts is that both coelacanth fish species may become extinct in the future
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.7 Min

The coelacanth is a fish that originated approximately 400 million years ago, making it one of the oldest known lobe-finned fishes on the planet. Today, coelacanth populations are found on the coast of South Africa and the eastern coast of Africa at large.

Some populations are also concentrated in Indonesia.

Modern-day coelacanths are highly evolved from the coelacanths that were present on Earth during the extinction event that happened approximately 65 million years ago. The first coelacanth to be publicly displayed was in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC on August 20, 1957.

There are two coelacanth species - the West Indian Ocean coelacanth (scientific name Latimeria chalumnae) and the Indonesian coelacanth (scientific name Latimeria menadoensis). Both living species have been named on the basis of where they can be found in the world.

Coelacanths are closely related to certain tetrapods (birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles) and lungfish.

Even though coelacanths have stood the test of time, their numbers are reported to be rapidly dwindling - especially the populations living off the east coast of Africa. Many fear that in the future, both coelacanth species may become completely extinct.

In this post, we'll take you through the most incredible facts about the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae. So, if you'd like to know more about the coelacanth fish, read on.

For more interesting facts-based articles right here on Kidadl, check out saltwater fish facts and skate fish facts.

Coelacanth Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a coelacanth?

Coelacanths are fishes.

What class of animal does a coelacanth belong to?

Coelacanths belong to the class Sarcopterygii.

How many coelacanths are there in the world?

The exact number of coelacanths living in the world today is unknown. However, according to estimates, each coelacanth population has 200-500 members.

Where does a coelacanth live?

A coelacanth lives in the ocean.

What is a coelacanth's habitat?

Coelacanths thrive in certain areas. The West Indian Ocean coelacanth is most commonly found along the east African coast, with the Comoros Islands being one of their most famous homes. The Indonesian coelacanth is found in the waters of Indonesia's coastal regions.

Coelacanths mostly live at a certain depth in the ocean which is referred to as the twilight zone around 500-800 ft (152.4-243.8 m). Some populations, particularly off the coast of South Africa, are known to wander at shallower depths such as 300-350 ft (91.4-106.6 m).

Their populations are highest in waters that are close to the rocky and steep slopes of islands with volcanoes.

During the day, coelacanths form groups and spend their time in natural cave-like formations in submarine deposits of lava. However, come night, and the coelacanths venture out from the cave-like formations to feed.

Who do coelacanths live with?

Coelacanths live in packs or clusters.

How long does a coelacanth live?

On average, a coelacanth's lifespan is around 48-60 years, which is 12 times longer than a flagfish.

How do they reproduce?

Coelacanths reproduce through ovoviviparity, a mode of reproduction that involves the internal fertilization of eggs. After the eggs are fertilized, the gestation period commences and lasts for almost an entire year, during which the embryos feed off the egg's yolk sac.

Once the gestation period is over, the mothers give birth to live pups, who are fully formed.

It's still not clear as to what the average litter size is, as only two females carrying pups have been studied. While one gave birth to five pups, the other gave birth to 26.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of the Indonesian coelacanth is Vulnerable, while the West Indian Ocean coelacanth is Critically Endangered. According to experts, it's possible for either or both species of the coelacanth to become extinct if certain human activities are not kept in check.

For example, coelacanth numbers have gone down in recent years because of scientific interest in them for further studies.

This has resulted in coelacanths being caught and traded by fishermen. Previously, this trade was non-existent because of a lack of scientific interest, and even when they were caught, the fishermen threw them back into the water.

Coelacanth Fun Facts

What do coelacanths look like?

One of the most astounding coelacanth fish facts is that several species of the coelacanth have gone extinct

Coelacanths are lobe-finned fishes with limb-like fins and quite large. Several fossils of coelacanth species that have gone extinct have been discovered.

However, compared to them, the size of the average coelacanth alive today is much bigger. Their lobed fins include two pelvic fins, two pectoral fins, two dorsal fins, one caudal fin, and one anal fin.

They have split tails because of their caudal lobe's fin ray tuft. Their eyes are incredibly large, while their mouths are small and surrounded by pseudo maxillary folds.

Between their lateral rostral bones and premaxilla, they have two nostrils and four external openings. Their nasal sacs are similar to those of several other fish types.

Their braincase's ethmoid region contains their unique rostral organ, which plays important role in the functioning of their later sensory systems. They also feature oil-filled notochords, which are typically replaced by vertebral columns in most other vertebrates during their embryonic development.

How cute are they?

Whether you find a coelacanth cute or not depends on how much you like to fish in general. If you don't like fish, you probably won't find the coelacanth cute at all. However, if you like fishes in general, you may find the coelacanth's plump appearance along with its large eyes to be cute.

How do they communicate?

Not much is known regarding how coelacanths communicate. Experts who have observed coelacanths in their deep-sea habitat have revealed that in the presence of other coelacanths, they stay very calm, even when they're tightly packed within a submarine cave.

They avoid body contact as much as possible for reasons unknown, and whenever there is any, they immediately withdraw. When potential predators approach them, they exhibit panic flight responses.

How big is a coelacanth?

Compared to the whale shark, which is the largest shark with an average size of 60 ft (18.2 m) coelacanths are almost 10 times smaller.

How fast can a coelacanth swim?

While coelacanths are known for their rapid movement, their peak and average swimming speeds remain unknown.

How much does a coelacanth weigh?

On average, coelacanths weigh around 198-200 lb (89.8-90.7 kg).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There aren't any sex-specific names for male and female coelacanths.

What would you call a baby coelacanth?

You would call a baby coelacanth a pup.

What do they eat?

Coelacanths are known as 'passive drift feeders'. They move passively and slowly near the substrate, where they feed mainly on smaller fishes and cephalopods such as octopus, squid, and cuttlefish.

Are they dangerous?

While coelacanths are large fishes and are capable of moving and hunting swiftly in the ocean, they aren't known to be dangerous. In the company of other coelacanths, they stay calm and composed. However, when they need to feed, they can be quite aggressive.

Would they make a good pet?

The simple answer to this question is no. There are multiple reasons for this.

First and foremost, a lot of things remain unknown regarding coelacanths, which can be problematic for owners to gauge their behavior. Secondly, they are large fishes, and you can't own one if you don't make arrangements to simulate its natural habitat at home, which can be expensive.

The third reason concerns their conservation status. As both living species of the coelacanth are endangered, it's best to let them be in their natural habitats and not contribute to their dwindling numbers.

Did you know...

In 2013, the Nature journal published the coelacanth's genome sequence. The genome sequencing was done using DNA from a coelacanth from Africa's Comoros Islands.

The sequence revealed that between marine and terrestrial vertebrates, the most recent shared ancestor is the lungfish. Before this genome sequencing was done, it was believed that the coelacanth is the most recent shared ancestor between marine and terrestrial vertebrates.

How did the coelacanth survive extinction?

In their abdomens, all coelacanths have obsolete lungs, which scientists believe the species once used to breathe and inhabited shallow waters. This suggests that they are closely related to lungfish.

However, they evolved and started breathing through their gills, as all other fishes do. Some populations also moved to deep waters during the mass extinction event that took place almost 65 million years ago.

How to pronounce coelacanth?

The word coelacanth is pronounced as 'see-la-kanth'.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other fish from our codfish facts and arapaima facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Coelacanth coloring pages.

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Written by Oluwatosin Michael

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

Oluwatosin Michael picture

Oluwatosin MichaelBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies. 

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