This article is from
Creation 16(4):46–47, September 1994

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A fishy story


‘Tweed boy had fish gills in his neck’. The headline was not that of some cheap tabloid paper, the type which is as likely to feature a phony photograph of a goat-human hybrid as to report Elvis running a hamburger cafe in Tibet. It was a respected Australian regional daily, The Northern Star (New South Wales) of October 30, 1993 (‘Tweed’ in the headline refers to the town of Tweed Heads).

The fuss was about a small fragment of cartilage (10-15 millimetres long) which had been removed from the neck of an 11-year-old boy. It was referred to as a ‘fish gill’, and as ‘fish gill cartilage’. The parents were reported as saying, ‘The doctor told us that if our son had been a fish he would be able to breath [sic] under water.[1] He said it was a gill — like in a fish’.

The report seemed to directly quote a medical authority as saying that the tissue found in this boy’s neck was hard cartilage ‘exactly the same as found in the gills of fish’. Little wonder that the boy had experienced ‘some teasing at school’!

Human cartilage

Tweed boy had fish gills in his neck - Newspaper clipping
A scar on the boy’s neck shows where the alleged ‘fish gill’ cartilage was removed. Occasionally, human cartilage may be abnormally ‘seeded’ during development of the embryo, and this is what grows in a person’s neck. The cartilage taken from the boy’s neck is about the size of one of Australia’s smallest coins. The pathologist who examined the ‘fish gill’ cartilage confirmed that its microscopic appearance was indistinguishable from human cartilage.

Knowing that we humans have human (not fish) DNA and can therefore make only human (not fish) cartilage, I rang the pathologist referred to in the article, who confirmed that the histology (microscopic appearance) of this cartilage was not in any way distinguishable from ordinary human cartilage.

The whole article seemed to be strongly promoting the mistaken belief that the human embryo, as it develops, goes through the stages of its pre-human evolutionary ancestry. It actually stated that in the first few weeks of life the human fetus ‘develops six gills’.

Few, if any, respected embryologists today accept this belief that the human fetus repeats its past evolutionary history. In a major textbook on human development (Jan Langman, Medical Embryology, fourth edition, Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 1981) we read that ‘in the human embryo real gills — branchia — are never formed’.2

Superficial similarity

There are pouch-like structures which form in the fish embryo and which look superficially similar to the pharyngeal pouches or grooves in the human embryo (these were formerly incorrectly called branchial (i.e. gill) grooves). However, whereas in fish this region develops gills, in humans it forms very important, and quite different, structures in the head and neck region, structures which have nothing to do with gills in either form or function.

These structures include several which contain cartilage (such as the voice-box, or larynx). So it is not at all surprising, in a fallen world, that there should occasionally be an aberration of normal embryonic development, such that a clump of laryngeal-type cartilage (for example) is incorrectly ‘seeded’ in the side of the neck during development in the womb, and begins growing.

Actually, such ‘embryonic rests’ or ‘remnants’ (not remnants of our evolutionary ancestry, but remnants of our own tissue which ended up in the wrong place), when they involve softer tissues than cartilage, are well-known in the neck region.3 So-called ‘cartilage rests’, as in this case, are much rarer, but have been described.4 There is therefore no mystery, and no evolutionary significance, to finding this tiny scrap of ordinary human cartilage in a human neck.

It is tragic how readily the secular media, which will give virtually no exposure to visits by distinguished creation scientists, will publish such misleading and erroneous reports which reinforce evolutionary beliefs.


  1. Strictly speaking, this sentence is true — if their son had been a fish, he would have been able to breathe underwater — because he would then have been designed to do so, with real gills!
  2. Regrettably, many doctors have not yet caught up with this information. In Creation magazine (Vol.14 No.3) we reported a respected Melbourne surgeon as saying that the vast majority of fifth-year medical students under his tutelage believe that the embryo does have gills — although their third-year text (quoted above) makes it plain that this belief is false.
  3. These are called ‘branchial’ cysts, because the tissues, like the cartilage in question, were believed to derive from the inappropriately named ‘branchial’ region of the embryo. However, many experts now believe ‘branchial’ cysts develop secondary to changes that occur within lymph nodes in the neck in early adult life, and have nothing to do with the branchial region. Openings to the surface (known as branchial sinuses) also result from developmental problems or surgical intervention into one of the cysts mentioned above. I recall that as a lad our family doctor told me about such a discharging neck sinus in one of his patients, and convinced me that it was a gill opening from that patient’s fish ancestor. I realized later, while at medical school (though still then an evolutionist), that this not uncommon condition was probably a failure of two embryonic components to fuse correctly, something like a harelip or cleft palate. It had nothing to do with the functional openings in real gills.
  4. See Archives of Surgery 1934 Vol. 28 pp 59-65. Not surprisingly, the case described therein also had other congenital deformities noticed on X-ray; a failure of normal fusion/development of some of the bones in the upper spine.

(Source: Madeleine Doherty, The Northern Star, October 30, 1993, p. 3.)