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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ

Copyright © 1994-1997 by Kathleen Hunt

[Last Update: March 17, 1997]

I wrote this FAQ as a reference for answering the "there aren't any transitional fossils" statement that pops up on several times each year. I've tried to make it an accurate, though highly condensed, summary of known vertebrate fossil history in those lineages that led to familiar modern forms, with the known transitions and with the known major gaps both clearly mentioned. Version 6.0 of the FAQ has been almost entirely rewritten, with:

  1. A completely rewritten introduction & conclusion, discussing what "transitional" means, why gaps occur, and what the fossil record shows.
  2. A greatly expanded list of "chains of genera" for most groups, especially mammals.
  3. References for documented species-to-species fossil transitions, mostly for mammals.
  4. Explicit mention of the notable remaining gaps in the fossil record.

If you have questions about this FAQ or want to send email to the author, click here.


  1. Introduction:
    1. Types of transitions
    2. Why are there gaps?
    3. Predictions of creationism & evolution
    4. What's in this FAQ
    5. Timescale
  2. Transitions from primitive fish to sharks, skates, rays
  3. Transitions from primitive fish to bony fish
  4. Transition from fishes to first amphibians
  5. Transitions among amphibians
  6. Transition from amphibians to first reptiles
  7. Transitions among reptiles
  8. Transition from reptiles to first mammals (long)
  9. Transition from reptiles to first birds
PART 2 has transitions among mammals (starting with primates), including numerous species-to-species transitions, discussion, and references. If you're particularly interested in humans, skip to the primate section of part 2, and also look up the fossil hominid FAQ.
  1. Overview of the Cenozoic
  2. Primates
  3. Bats
  4. Carnivores
  5. Rodents
  6. Lagomorphs (rabbits & hares)
  7. Condylarths (first hoofed animals)
  8. Cetaceans (whales & dolphins)
  9. Perissodactyls (horses, rhinos, tapirs)
  10. Elephants
  11. Sirenians (dugongs & manatees)
  12. Artiodactyls (pigs, hippos, deer, giraffes, cows, etc.)
  13. Species transitions from other miscellaneous mammal groups
  14. Conclusion:
    • A bit of historical background
    • The major features of the fossil record
    • Good models & bad models: which theories match the data best?
    • The main point.
  15. References

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