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WASHINGTON - Scientists unearthed a skull of the most primitive four-legged creature in Earth's history, which should help them better understand the evolution of fish to advanced animals that walk on land.
Research by Jennifer A. Clack and her colleagues showed that the earliest tetrapods, such as Acanthostega, were wholly aquatic and quite unsuited to life on land. This overturned the earlier view that fish had first invaded the land — either in search of prey (like modern mudskippers) or to find water when the pond they lived in dried out — and later evolved legs, lungs, etc.
The first tetrapods are now thought to have evolved in shallow and swampy freshwater habitats, towards the end of the Devonian, a little more than 365 million years ago. By the late Devonian, land plants had stabilized freshwater habitats, allowing the first wetland ecosystems to develop, with increasingly complex food webs that afforded new opportunities.