Anatomically, Eusthenopteron shares many unique features in common with the earliest known tetrapods. Largest individuals grew up to 1.8 m (6.5 ft) in length. It shares a similar pattern of skull roofing bones with forms such as Ichthyostega and Acanthostega. Eusthenopteron, like other tetrapodomorph fishes, had internal nostrils, (or a choana) which are found only in land animals and sarcopterygians. It also had labyrinthodont teeth, characterized by infolded enamel, which characterizes all of the earliest known tetrapods as well. Like other fish-like sarcopterygians, Eusthenopteron possessed a two-part cranium, which hinged at mid-length along an intracranial joint. Eusthenopteron's notoriety comes from the pattern of its fin endoskeleton, which bears a distinct humerus, ulna, and radius (in the fore-fin) and femur, tibia, and fibula (in the pelvic fin). These appendicular long bones had epiphyseal growth plates that allowed substantial longitudinal growth through endochondral ossification, as in tetrapod long bones. These six appendicular bones also occur in tetrapods and are a synapomorphy of a large clade of sarcopterygians, possibly Tetrapodomorpha (the humerus and femur are present in all sarcoptergyians). Similarly, its elasmoid scales lack superficial odontodes composed of dentine and enamel; this loss appears to be a synapomorphy with more crownward tetrapodomorphs.
Eusthenopteron differs significantly from some later Carboniferous tetrapods in the apparent absence of a recognized larval stage and a definitive metamorphosis. In even the smallest known specimen of Eusthenopteron foordi (at 29 mm), the lepidotrichia cover all of the fins, which does not happen until after metamorphosis in genera like Polyodon. This might indicate that Eusthenopteron developed directly, with the hatchling already attaining the general body form of the adult (Cote et al., 2002). So, Jarvik was perhaps not correct as he proposed (1980) Palaeospondylus gunni might have been the larva (tadpole-like) of Eusthenopteron.
In popular cultureEdit
- Eusthenopteron was featured in the second episode of Animal Armageddon.
- Eusthenopteron has also been widely featured in textbooks as a 'missing link' between fish and tetrapods.
- Eusthenopteron were also featured within the large amount of other ancient fish in the movie Ponyo.