Known as the living fossil. Inhabits steep rocky shores, sheltering in caves during the day (Ref. 38425), with as much as 14 individuals in a single cave (Ref. 38426). Foraging singly over open substrate at night (Ref. 38426), it drifts passively with the current or swims slowly with its paired fins and its second dorsal and anal fins (Ref. 38427). May travel as much as 8 km at night searching for food and retreats to the nearest cave before dawn (Ref. 38426). Preys on fishes and squid (Ref. 26162). Beryx, Polymixia, Symphysanodon, apogonids, a skate, an eel and a swell shark have been known to be eaten (Ref. 11228). Its main enemies are likely to be large sharks (Ref. 26162). Ovoviviparous, with as much as 5-29 young (Ref. 11228, 37171). Gestation period estimated at 3 years, which would be the longest known in vertebrates (Ref. 30865). A small relative gill area (Ref. 38428) restricts coelacanths to a life 'in the slow lane', drift-feeding at night in cold waters and resting in slightly warmer caves for food consumption during day time (Ref. 38429). Recently, Prof Hans Fricke and associates have succeeded in observing and filming Latimeria in their natural habitat. Using a two-man submersible, Fricke found several coelacanths in depths of 120-400 m on the barren lava slopes off Grand Comoro. Coelacanths have distinctive white markings, and this allowed recognition of individuals and tracking of their movements. During the day, Latimeria retreat to caves, with as many as 13 fish crowded together in a single cave. Several individuals occupy overlapping home ranges, and Fricke never saw any aggressive encounters between coelacanths. By resting in caves (were there are no strong currents) the coelacanths save energy and avoid encounters with large predators (deep-water sharks). After sunset, the coelacanths leave their caves and drift slowly across the substrate, presumably looking for food, within 1-3 meters of the bottom. On these nightly hunting forays, the coelacanth may travel as much as 8 km; and before dawn they shelter in the nearest cave. While searching for prey, or moving from one cave to another, Latimeria appears to move in slow motion, either drifting passively with the current and using its flexible pectoral and pelvic fins to adjust its position, or slowly swimming by a synchronous sculling movement of the second dorsal and anal fins. In slow forward swimming, the left pectoral and right pelvic fins move forward, while the right pectoral and left pelvic fins are pulled backward. This tandem movement of alternate paired fins resembles the movement of the forelimbs and hindlimbs of a tetrapod walking on land. Latimeria does not use its lobed fins for walking on the bottom, and even when they are resting in caves they usually do not touch the substrate. Like most slow moving fishes, the coelacanth can make a sudden lunge or fast start by means of a quick flip of its massive caudal fin. During its nightly foraging swims, Latimeria was often seen to perform head-stands, in which it rotates its body into a vertical position, with its head near the bottom and its caudal fin curved perpendicular to its body. It then held this position for two or three minutes at a time. This curious behavior may be used when it is scanning the bottom with its putative electoreceptive rostral organ, or it may be a reaction to the bright lights of Prof. Fricke's submersible (Ref. 38228).
- Smith, M.M. 1986 Latimeriidae. p. 152-153. In M.M. Smith and P.C. Heemstra (eds.) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. (Ref. 3185)
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