But along with these embryonic characters, which were common to all Devonian fishes, there were other structures in certain groups which foreshadowed the higher structures of the land vertebrates which were yet to come: air sacs which were to develop into lungs, and cartilaginous axes in the side fins which were a prophecy of limbs. The vertebrates had already advanced far enough to prove the superiority of their type of structure to all others. Their internal skeleton afforded the best attachment for muscles and enabled them to become the largest and most powerful creatures of the time. The central nervous system, with the predominance given to the ganglia at the fore end of the nerve cord,—the brain,— already endowed them with greater energy than the invertebrates; and, still more important, these structures contained the possibility of development into the more highly organized land vertebrates which were to rule the earth.
Teleosts. The great group of fishes called the teleosts, or those with complete bony skeletons, to which most modern fishes belong, may be mentioned here, although in the Devonian they had not yet appeared. The teleosts are a highly specialized type, adapted most perfectly to their aquatic environment. Heavy armor has been discarded, and reliance is placed instead on swiftness. The skeleton is completely ossified and the notochord removed. The vertebrae have been economically withdrawn from the tail, and the cartilaginous axis of the side fins has been fotfoid unnecessary. The air sac has become a swim bladder. In this complete specialization they have long since lost the possibility of evolving into higher types.
It is interesting to note that the modern teleosts in their embryological growth pass through the stages which characterized the maturity of their Devonian ancestors; their skeleton is cartilaginous and their tail fin vertebrated.
The Carboniferous system is so named from the large amount of coal which it contains. Other systems, from the Devonian on, are coal bearing also, but none so richly and to so wide an extent. Never before or since have the peculiar conditions been so favorable for the formation of extensive coal deposits.
With few exceptions the Carboniferous strata rest on those of the Devonian without any marked unconformity; the one period passed quietly into the other, with no great physical disturbances.
The Carboniferous includes three distinct series. The lower is called the Mississippian, from the outcrop of its formations along the Mississippi River in central and southern Illinois and the adjacent portions of Iowa and Missouri. The middle series is called the Pennsylvanian (or Coal Measures), from its wide occurrence over Pennsylvania. The upper series is named the Permian, from the province of Perm in Russia.