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In many ways, the skeleton of the fish looked like what you’d see on a walking tetrapod. “I literally thought someone was playing a trick on me,” she said.
In typical fish, the pelvis is just a pair of small bones floating in the body wall. Fish use the bones only to stabilize their pelvic fins, so that they can stop themselves from rolling over.
In the waterfall-climbing cave fish, on the other hand, the pelvis is a complex of bones that is fused to the spine by elongated ribs. It’s the same arrangement that tetrapods evolved, allowing them to hold themselves up with their hind legs.
Typical fish also have small vertebrae that don’t overlap, allowing them to bend their bodies as they swim. But the waterfall-climbing cave fish has the same overlapping growths on their vertebrae that stiffen the spine in tetrapods.
“Functionally, it makes perfect sense, but to see it in a fish is incredibly wild,” Dr. Flammang said.