Significance to humans

It is believed that the "crocodile fish" that occurs in southern Chinese mythology is the cephalochordate species Bran-chiostoma belcheri. The mythical hero Han Yu killed many crocodiles, some of which escaped mortally wounded to the Xiamen region before they died. The maggots that emerged from the crocodile carcasses gradually changed into cephalo-chordates. This myth originated in the Tan Dynasty (a.D. 616-905).

In southern China local fishermen, deploying traditional techniques, fish for Branchiostoma belcheri. The catch is used for human consumption. Branchiostoma lanceolatum occurs as an appetizer on a gala dinner menu in honor of the influential German zoologist Ernst Haeckel. The greatest importance of cephalochordates to humans, however, is cultural: they occupy a prominent place as a linchpin for the theory of evolution.

1. Epigonichthys cultellus, 2. Bahama lancelet (Epigonichthys lucayanus) S. Smalltail lancelet (Branchiostoma belcheri), 4. European lancelet (Branchiostoma lanceolatum). (Illustration by Michelle Meneghini)

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