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Protoanguilla Palau, 'Living Fossil,' Discovered In Pacific

09/05/2011 08:55 pm ET | Updated Nov 05, 2011

Scientists working near the Pacific island nation of Palau discovered a new species of eel which they dubbed a “living fossil.”

In the video below from Newsy, Kylie McGivern explains that the Protoanguilla palau is a “living fossil” because its DNA has remained “largely unchanged” in 200 million years. This eel species is actually 100 million years older than the oldest eel fossil ever found.

The eel, which was discovered in an underwater cave last year, has little anatomical resemblance to modern eels. But it “displays many hallmarks of primitive eels from the Mesozoic era,” according to a Discover blog post.

Discovery News reports the eel's “primitive features include fewer vertebrae, certain fused skull bones, presence of an upper jaw bone found in Cretaceous eels, and toothed gill rakers, which could be involved in feeding and gill maintenance,” according to the study's lead author, David Johnson.

In their findings, which were published last month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the scientists explain that “in some features it is more primitive than recent eels, and in others, even more primitive than the oldest known fossil eels, suggesting that it represents a 'living fossil' without a known fossil record," reports the International Business Times.

The eel, which is only 1.7 inches long, is different enough from other eels that it “required an entirely new breed of classification ... because none of the other 819 species, which are grouped into 19 families, would suffice,” according to the Daily Mail.

The Newsy video explains that the term “living fossil” was first coined by Charles Darwin in his seminal 1859 work “On the Origin of Species.” Living fossils “are extremely long-lasting species that have undergone few bodily changes over the millennia,” according to Discovery News.

Check out this video from the Royal Society of the Protoanguilla palau in the wild.

For more discoveries, watch Bill Nighy and Gemma Arterton look at some of the most recently discovered species. You can also view nine potentially new species that were discovered off the coast of Bali and presented in May.

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