Eusthenopteron Palaeos Vertebrates Sarcopterygii: Osteolepiformes: Eusthenopteron

Virtual Museum of Canada

Miguasha : From water to land (The Miguasha National Park)

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The Devonian: Age of Fishes

  • In search of our origins
    • Records of past life
      • The notion of geologic time
      • The history of the Devonian System
    • Witnesses to evolution
    • A lost world
      • Tectonic context
      • Paleogeography
      • Climate
      • A Devonian day
    • Life in crisis
      • The Late Devonian extinction event
  • The plant world
    • The conquest of land
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    • The plants of Miguasha
      • Protobarinophyton
      • Archaeopteris
      • Spermasporites
      • Spores by the millions
  • The animal world
    • Life in the sea
    • The diversification of fish
    • Toward the first tetrapods
    • The animals of Miguasha
      • A window through time
        • Representativity
        • Fossil quality
        • Specimens by the thousands
      • The food chain
        • Of predators and prey
        • Stomach contents
        • Coprolites
      • Invertebrates
        • The aquatic environment
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      • Vertebrates
        • Jawless fish
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          • Sarcopterygians
            • Actinistians
            • Porolepiforms
            • Dipnoi
            • Osteolepiforms
            • Elpistostegalians


  • Osteolepiforms   | 
  • Callistiopterus

Since 1879, no less than 3,000 specimens of Eusthenopteron foordi have been excavated from the sedimentary rocks of the Miguasha cliffs, making this species one of the most common in the formation. Reconstruction of Eusthenopteron foordimagnifying(28 kb) The sheer abundance and excellent preservation of so many specimens of this ancient fish have allowed for numerous studies, leading to a level of recognition and fame that is usually only seen for living species.

Eusthenopteron foordimagnifying(44 kb) Known around the world, Eusthenopteron is sometimes called “the fish with legs”, reflecting how similar its fin bones are to those of the tetrapods. Other traits that link it closely to tetrapods are the labyrinthodont teeth (teeth with folded sheets of dentine), characteristic of primitive tetrapods, and the presence of a choana in the palate, which enabled tetrapods to breathe air. Did the choana in Eusthenopteron confer the same ability? Impossible to know for certain, but it is quite likely that the animal had lungs, as did other groups like the dipnoi.

Labyrinthodont toothmagnifying(84 kb) The median fins of Eusthenopteron are easily recognized by their pointed sail-like shape and are positioned far back on the body, which is typical in osteolepiform fish. These fins enabled the fish to accelerate rapidly and thus surprise its prey.

The head of Eusthenopteron displays a complex pattern of dermal bones. Small teeth adorn the edges of the upper and lower jaws, whereas pronounced fangs grew a little farther back in the mouth. It was evidently a predator, a fact that is also directly demonstrated by the presence of whole fish, sometimes even fellow members of its own species, still in the abdomen of some specimens.

Bones of the pectoral fin from Eusthenopteronmagnifying(24 kb) The streamlined profiles of this fish can reach more than a metre long, but specimens come in all sizes, some only 2.7 cm long, which has allowed an exhaustive investigation into its growth. Studies have established that it underwent at least two types of “growth spurts” during its lifetime, during which the ossification of various parts of its skeleton was accelerated.

Nicknamed the “Prince of Miguasha”, Eusthenopteron foordi has been the site’s ambassador to the world for more than a century.

The Prince of Miguasha

Picture Description

Japanese production of a 3D animated film showing an Eusthenopteron swimming underwater and feeding on fish and then raising its head above the water.

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Miguasha: A story written in stone

  • The Gaspé Peninsula: A world of oceans and mountains
    • The birth of the Appalachians
    • The closing of an ocean
    • A sea of fossils
    • Faunal realms
    • Devonian lands in the Gaspé Peninsula
  • The Miguasha Group
    • The Fleurant Formation
    • The Escuminac Formation
      • Geological characteristics
      • Localization systems
      • Biostratigraphy
      • An ancient estuary
      • An environment of exceptional preservation
  • Of cliffs and men
    • The Seigniory of Shoolbred
    • A World Heritage Site
    • Miguasha fossils around the world
    • The geology craze of the 19th century
    • The first discoveries
    • Scientists come to Miguasha
    • Links to Scotland
    • Local fossil hunters
    • Erik Jarvik and the Prince of Miguasha
    • The birth of the Miguasha project
    • The 1991 International Symposium
  • Le Parc national de Miguasha
    • Protecting a unique heritage
    • Fossil digs and research
    • The on-site museum

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<<   Callistiopterus    |    Elpistostegalians   >>

Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq)
Parc national de Miguasha
UNESCO World Heritage Centre

© Miguasha National Park 2007

Reconstruction of Eusthenopteron foordi

Title: Reconstruction of Eusthenopteron foordi
Author: Illustration by François Miville-Deschênes
Sources: Parc national de Miguasha
Year: 2000

The Devonian osteolepiform Eusthenopteron foordi, a swift predator with a hydrodynamic body.

Eusthenopteron foordi

Title: Eusthenopteron foordi
Author: Jean-Pierre Sylvestre
Sources: Parc national de Miguasha
Year: 2002

It was during the Devonian Period that sarcopterygian fish gave rise to the first terrestrial vertebrates. Eusthenopteron foordi (shown here) was long thought to be the transitional animal between fish and tetrapods, sharing features with both, but recent discoveries have shown that the elpistostegalians are even more closely related to four-legged vertebrates.

Labyrinthodont tooth

Title: Labyrinthodont tooth
Author: Moya Meredith Smith
Sources: Parc national de Miguasha
Year: 1996

Cross-section through a tooth from Eusthenopteron foordi. The labyrinth pattern of infolded dentine inside the tooth is a characteristic feature shared by the first tetrapods.

Bones of the pectoral fin from Eusthenopteron

Title: Bones of Eusthenopteron’s pectoral fin
Author: Parc national de Miguasha
Sources: Parc national de Miguasha
Year: 2003

Plaster cast of the Erik Jravik’s model of the bones in the pectoral fins of Eusthenopteron foordi. This bone structure was often compared to that of the tetrapods.



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A Blast From The Past

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Fish , Prehistoric fish , Devonian fishes ,

and 8 more

  • Tetrapod Fishes
  • Prehistoric Life
  • Aquatic Creatures
  • Tetrapods
  • Devonian
  • Paleozoic
  • The Rite of Spring Creatures
  • The Land Before Time Creatures



  • History



Name Eusthenopteron
Class Sarcopterygii
Name Translation Robust Fin
Period Devonian 380-360 Million Years Ago
Location Oceans
Diet Carnivore
Length 6.5 feet (2 meters) long

Eusthenopteron was a tetrapod Lobe-finned fish in the Devonian Period 385 million years ago.

They’re one of the Devonian lob

Eusthenopteron foordi 1

Eusthenopteron Fossil

e-finned prehistoric fishes that have limbs that are much like the first amphibian Ichthyostega and lived in the same period but not in the same time. Other lobe-finned fishes that are tetrapodomorphs were Panderichthys and Tiktaalik.


Eusthenopteron was very advanced in terms of fish from the Devonian. It was one of the few fishes that actually had strong, limb-like fins that could’ve helped to pull itself around when the water got shallow, making it that much closer to becoming and amphibian and therefore a land dweller. It likely evolved from earlier fish that had started to try and move into shallower water and therefore needed stronger fins to move through the more land-based environment. Eusthenopteron is significant in the fossil record because it’s sort of a “missing link” in the ev

Field Museum devonian mural detail

olution of amphibians and land-based creatures. It shows how fish first evolved strong fins that were capable of pulling them around before gaining actual digits and lungs. Eusthenopteron is likely an ancestor of Tiktaalik, which is technically the first amphibian and therefore land vertebrate.


Eusthenopteron is a strange-looking fish. It was quite big, over 6.5 feet (2 meters) long, and was long and slenderly built. It had a large head with powerful jaws that could’ve been capable of delivering a nasty bite to any potential victims. It had several strong, pointy teeth


that were perfectly designed to keep a hold of its prey and tear it apart. It had several broad fins coming from all over its body, but its frontal and back fins were especially strange. They were very well-muscled and thick, unusual for a fish. Most scientists believe it used these fins to help pull itself around on the the ocean floor when it got shallow and that it was a sign to show that amphibians were close to evolving.

In Popular Culture

Eusthenopteron was featured in the documentary Animal Armageddon, where it was shown how to live until the Devonian Extinction occured. It was also in the hit Japanese movie Ponyo alongside several other ancient Devonian fish. Eusthenopterons also appeared in the 8th movie of The Land Before Time in the beginning in the ocean.




Animal Armageddon

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