“I think the term ‘living fossil’ should be retired,” Turner says. “It does little good because it is almost always based on oversimplifications. ‘Living fossils’ often are judged based on some notion of overall morphological similarity. That was the case with crocs. If you squint, these various lineages all sort of look the same, but the details are all different. It ignores how evolution works on multiple levels. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Oaks echoes him: “Overall, I think the term hurts more than it helps people’s understanding of evolution. Just because a species looks similar to fossils from many millions of years ago certainly does not mean that it has not evolved. The term ‘living fossil’ is often used in cases that are simply explained by low diversity; just because there are only one or several species that represent a taxonomic group does not mean they are evolutionarily static.”
This article almost looks like it was written to make a political point and, sure enough, …
Our tendency to overlook the inherent dynamism of certain creatures’ evolutionary stories—to pretend that they somehow got stuck in a rut along the way—underscores our all too often self-serving perception of evolution. We like to see the fossil record as evidence of progress, of steady improvement, with humans the pinnacle of evolutionary engineering. Creatures that first evolved long ago are somehow less “advanced.” Any animal alive today that looks like those primeval beasts must be inferior to us; the only way to reconcile their existence here and now with their appearance is to act as though they were subject to a great evolutionary pause. Conversely, we consider ourselves so highly evolved that we have transcended the usual pressures of natural selection. Whereas only the fittest survive among wild animals, we can guarantee the health and safety of the vast majority; because of our supremely evolved brains—our science, technology, and medicine—we have extricated ourselves from nature. Even esteemed science communicators such as David Attenborough have perpetuated this belief.
Actually, that is a load of rot.
The creatures actually didn’t end up changing that much, but that fact may be harder to market to tax-funded TV.