An amazingly well preserved 10 centimeter long fossilized fish found in the Hamilton Quarry (Kansas) suggests that the fish have been seeing the world in color since at least 300 million years. Since the fossils from this region get buried in the sediments in the lagoon very quickly, they are usually very well preserved.

In this particular case, the 300 million year old fish is so well preserved that even the rods and cones in its eyeballs can still be seen very clearly under a scanning electron microscope. This is the first time fossilized photo receptors from a vertebrate eye have ever been found.

Rods and cones in the eyes line the retina. The long and thin rods are more sensitive to light than the cones which are triangular in shape and help us see color. Both rods and cones rely on pigments to absorb light. The scientists studying this fish have found, using chemical analysis, the evidence of one of these pigments — melanin — in the fossilized eye as well.

It is rare for paleontologists to find eye remains, as the soft tissue generally decays within 64 days, the authors of the study said.

“This is the first discovery of vertebrate retinal fossils,” said Gengo Tanaka from Kumamoto University, who co-authored the study in the journal Nature Communications.

With an entire ecosystem having rapidly buried under sediment, the Hamilton Quarry in Kansas is a treasure trove of unusually well-preserved fossils including the extinct fish Acanthodes bridge which is among the oldest known vertebrates with jaws.

It had a long, streamlined body and fins with spines, is believed to have lived in shallow, brackish water, and died out at the end of the Permian period about 250 million years ago when nearly 90 percent of species disappeared in the largest extinction in Earth’s history.

The remains of the fish had been preserved under a thin coating of phosphate, told Tanaka. An analysis of the tissue “provides the first record of mineralised rods and cones in a fossil,” said the study.

These, combined with light-absorbing melanin pigments, suggested the fish was “probably” able to see in low light using highly sensitive rod cells, and by day using cone cells.

This is one of the oldest direct evidence of color sensitive receptors though scientists believe that vision has existed for at least 520 million years



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11 Responses

    • Bill Merritt

      It’s a very strong ‘suggestion”. Cones in the eyes are associated with color vision in every presently living animal, as is the detection of melanin in the the eye. Short of going back in time, this is tantamount to confirming these creatures could sense differences in color.

  1. Albert Einstein

    Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

  2. anontheist

    The Creation Museum in Kentucky will be very interested in this. Probably buy it and display in their Tricks of Satan section.

    • Bill Merritt

      The exhibit theme will be displayed under the biblical quotation “If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out”! 😉

      • Don_in_Odessa

        Evolution is a theory not a proven fact. People who dogmatically believe
        in evolution to the exclusion of creationism show the same level of
        intelligence as those they disparage.

      • Bill Merritt

        Yes, evolution is a theory like electricity and gravity and chemistry. Keep your head in the sand and your butt showing to the world! 😉

      • Don_in_Odessa

        ” Keep your head in the sand and your butt showing to the world!”

        Seems, I can just leave that little exercise to you alone. You have just done a fine job of it all by yourself. 😉

    • Skabb15

      pathetic that you read a story and immediately think of a way to insult someone who has nothing to do with the story. You are worse than the creationists, at least they can claim just being stupid.

      • anontheist

        Excuse me, but who did I insult? Satan? If so, I’m positive, really positive, that he won’t mind in the least.
        Maybe you think I insulted Don in Odessa. But he wrote after I did. I hadn’t read his rationalization essay until a minute ago. Literacy and a modicum of intelligence do not immunize a person against superstition. The exposure began at Don’s birth and continues throughout his life.

    • Don_in_Odessa

      The theory of evolution is based on a one sided view of circumstantial evidence. That is not to say it is not rue, only that it is not proven. Here is my argument disproving the assumption that there is proof of evolution. It does not prove Creationism, nor does it disprove evolution, but it does even the scales of the assumptions on a superficial level.

      Line up a bunch hominid skeletons from modern day hominids even include a few different races of homo sapiens of today and you could build a picture of transitional evolutionary changes as well. You could say that is proof of genus change or even species change, but you would be wrong.

      So what is a duck billed platypus; a transitional phase between a duck and a beaver? Look it up. Just for grins, let’s say the animal is extinct and all we have is a bunch of fossils and fossilized mud impressions to compare it with. To line up a bunch of bones from the past and say they are proof of transitional species much less genus’ is no more proof than lining up a bunch of modern day equivalents and saying the same thing. The logic is flawed. Since we have the live animal to test we know the platypus is in a genus all by itself.

      The above two paragraphs being absolute fact, Please explain again how there is all this evidence that evolution is a fact and not a theory.

      Adaptation of a species is proven but it is not proven that adaptation changes the species from one species to another let alone the genus. That we share some DNA with every living thing on the planet only proves that what ever creative forces formed the planet started with the same basic set of instructions for life.

      Again evolution is a theory not a proven fact. People who dogmatically believe in evolution to the exclusion of creationism show the same level of intelligence as those they disparage.


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