Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 12th, 2006
Zoologist Darren Naish has written a thoughtful essay on “Are Sumatran Rhinos Really Living Fossil?”
His blog is in response to my comments on the “living fossil” issue, discussed here. I disagree with Naish’s restrictive parameters, of course, as I see this more an issue of educational semantics influenced by zoology, not ruled by it. Darren Naish’s approach is worthy of your attention and he has every right to his very informed point of view.
Needless to say, in this case, I was employing the “living fossil” definition that this rhino species is “a living species/clade with many ‘primitive’ characteristics in appearance, in which the species has many ancestral characteristics (plesiomorphies).”
Most discussions of the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus) give credence to the notion that they display traits of and links to the Ice Age wooly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis). [The Family Rhinocerotidae developed in the Late Eocene Epoch (55 to 36 million years ago) or Early Oligocene Epoch (36 to 22.5 million years ago) and spread across North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. The woolly rhinoceros appeared during the Mid-Pleistocene Epoch (about 500,000 years ago) in eastern Asia.] The Asian Rhino Specialist Group, for example, notes in their materials that the Sumatran is the last representative of the wooly rhino.
I will continue to use the “living fossil” phrase to highlight the points I wish to make, just as Charles Darwin, E. O. Wilson, Willy Ley, Bernard Heuvelmans, and Ivan T. Sanderson have before me.