This Wednesday, April 9, PBS will air Your Inner Fish, a three part television series based on Neil Shubin’s book of the same title. The book traces the evolution of the human body back millions of years to early fish and includes the famous Tiktaalik, the late Devonian fish Shubin and his team discovered in the Canadian arctic. Tiktaalik represents the evolutionary transition from fish to amphibians with its arm-like fins that include a shoulder, elbow and wrist quite like a crocodile. The Canadian Mint honoured Tiktaalik with a great glow-in-the-dark coin and we’ve mentioned this important fossil previously here.
Where did humans get arms, legs, and hands — as well as our tendency to hiccup? In this hour, common traits are traced to an ancient ancestor: a prehistoric fish, with primitive limbs, that crawled onto land around 375 million years ago. The search takes viewers from a Pennsylvania highway to the Arctic Circle to uncover humankind’s “inner fish.”
How did humans wind up with skin and teeth, sweat and mammary glands, the ability to grasp and an acute sense of hearing? In this episode, Shubin traces these body features to early reptiles and a tiny mammal-like creature. His journey begins in Nova Scotia and winds up in South Africa, as he reveals humanity’s “inner reptile” and “inner shrew.”
Why do humans have color vision, a highly efficient gait and endless back trouble, yet no tail? To find the answers, and to look for the origins of the human brain, viewers join expeditions with legendary fossil hunters in Africa. Shubin travels back in time 50 million years on the trail of humans’ “inner ape.”
My local PBS station will air the first episode at 10PM ET and a complete schedule is available here. In the meantime, you can read more about the TV series and Tiktaalik in this National Geographic Q&A with Neil Shubin.