Ichthyostega, Acanthostega, Elginerpeton : Fins to Feet?

Author: Stephen Caesar, Associates for Biblical Research
Subject: Intelligent Design
Date: 06/04/2003

Evolutionists claim that fish evolved feet from their fins, allowing them to crawl onto land. Recent discoveries, such as footprints left on the ocean floor by an aquatic animal, have refuted this, as National Geographic reported: “These tracks and other recent fossil finds have forced scientists to rethink when and how life came to land” (Westenberg 1999: 114).

There is no fossil evidence that a four-footed fish (“tetrapod”) left the water to venture onto land. Until recently, there was only one fossil tetrapod in existence: Ichthyostega (Ibid. 116). Using Ichthyostega as a base, evolutionists imagined tetrapods evolving from fish living in lakes that dried up regularly. The fish that used their fins to drag themselves onto land in search of new lakes survived; all others died. The survivors’ fins eventually evolved into legs.

The discovery of the underwater footprints undermines this theory, which Hans Bjerring of the Swedish Museum of Natural History scoffed at as “hocus-pocus.” He theorizes that Ichthyostega lived in swamps clogged with vegetation. “It isn’t easy to swim around thick vegetation,” he stated. He believes that Ichthyostega’s feet made it easier to maneuver through the swamp’s plant life, and doubts if the tetrapod ever even stepped onto land. “Many specialists now agree,” National Geographic reported (Ibid. 119).

The footprints are clearly those of a tetrapod, but the fact that they were found underwater means they were left by a tetrapod foraging on the swamp floor, not by one venturing onto land. The discovery by paleontologist Jenny Clack of Cambridge University’s Museum of Zoology of the most complete tetrapod specimen yet found, Acanthostega, supports this. Named “Boris,” this fossil’s wrists and ankles were too weak to support its weight on land, and its ribs were too small to support the necessary muscles to hold its body off the ground. Its fish-like tail would have dragged on the ground, slowing “Boris” down and constantly getting scraped and infected (Ibid. 119, 122).

“Boris clearly didn’t walk on land,” Clack concluded. Like Bjerring, she thinks Acanthostega’s legs were for maneuvering in swampy waters: “If you can grasp onto vegetation, then you can hold your position in a stream. You can feel your way through murky water. You can dig in the mud for prey. You can avoid bigger predators by crawling into plant-choked waters where swimming would have been difficult” (Ibid. 122).

Another newly discovered tetrapod, Elginerpeton, provides more evidence. Its discoverer, paleontologist Per Ahlberg of the Natural History Museum in London, explains:

“It had this peculiar twist to its hind limb. The leg stuck out sideways, like a salamander’s or crocodile’s, but the sole of the foot faced backward rather than down. That would be no good for walking at all, as the animal couldn’t put its foot flat on the ground. But it would be ideal for paddling in water” (Ibid. 124).

There is modern evidence against the fin-to-foot theory. Dominique Adriaens of Ghent University witnessed a pair of eel catfish produce two offspring with fully developed front fins, even though eel catfish have neither front nor rear fins because they spend their lives slithering through mud rather than swimming. Adriaens then examined adult eel catfish from numerous museum collections and found that about 2/3 had front fins, and some had both front and rear fins. Moreover, the specimens with both front and rear fins were shaped more like standard fish than eels. According to Stéphan Reebs, professor of biology at the Université de Moncton, fin loss and body shape are adaptations within the eel catfish species and do not prove evolution from one species to another:

“To demonstrate that limbs can be lost in the course of evolution, biology teachers often arrange illustrations of related species in a series to show gradual reduction in limb size or numbers. Adriaen’s study provides a rare example of variation in limb numbers WITHIN A SINGLE SPECIES” (Reebs 2002: 30 [emph. added]).


Reebs, S. 2002. “With or Without.” Natural History 111, no. 7.
Westenberg, K. 1999. “From Fins to Feet.” National Geographic 195, no. 5.

Stephen Caesar holds his master’s degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is a staff
member at Associates for Biblical Research and the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern
Science, available at www.1stbooks.com.

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