For those interested in paleontology and evolution beyond dinosaurs the name Tiktaalik should be a familiar one. Discovered on Ellesmere Island, Canada, and formally described in 2006, Tiktaalik is significant in broadening our understanding of how sarcopterygian fishes gave rise to land dwelling vertebrates. With shoulders disconnected from the head this animal had a functional neck unlike other fishes, as well as robust ribs akin to those in tetrapods, and of course shoulder, elbow, and wrist bones in addition to fishy fin rays.
It’s easy to think of evolution as a linear process, where one species in the fossil record gives rise to the next in an ever-improving, ever-ascending ladder. But the reality is messier. It’s more like a bush with lots of dead-end branches–any one specimen is unlikely to be our direct ancestor, but many of the transitional forms we find in the fossil record would have been, at least, pretty close relatives of our direct ancestors.