When Professor Harry B Whittington first showed his beloved and painstaking reconstruction of opabinia to his esteemed peers they gave a rather surprising response… they laughed.


Sadly it wasn’t because opabinia was a famed wit and raconteur, nor were these learned types prone to giddy bouts, poor opabinia was just a bit funny looking. Of course guffawing at his looks wasn’t a very nice thing to do, and could go part way to explain why this odd chap hasn’t been that social in the last 500 million years.


Though it’s not just the five eyes that make this chap Ever so Strange. Where to begin ‘pon his many festoonations? One thinks we may have to go through this logically. So starting at the rather odd-front; opabinia has what can only be described as a spiny claw. The claw is attached to a hollow trunk, yes quite like that of the elephant, except corrugated as if it were a hoover attachment. He would have used the claw on the end of his odd trunk much like an elephant too, to pick up morsels he quite liked the look of on the seabed and shove them in his odd little mouth that faced backwards.

His head was quite normal… if you can call a head with five eyes normal… no… oh. Very well then. His odd head, with its odd backwards-facing mouth, was stuck on a body that in all fairness was a bit odd. It was basically fifteen segments on each of which was an odd floppy lobe either side, odd floppy lobes that would Mexican wave him through the Cambrian seas… which, for the record, were rather odd places.


So why was opabinia so odd? Well it seems we judge him with modern eyes, we try and compare him with what we know we say ‘he’s a bit like a scorpion or a horseshoe crab.’ Though this odd one out is just not like that, for a start off he’s not even a crustacean or an insect or anything we are lucky enough to have on our planet today, he doesn’t even have a hard shell. The wobbly chap was in fact more closely related to the tardigrades and velvet worms. Perhaps this is what opabinia best represents, the many experimental forms that evolved, only to fall at various hurdles. Hopefully no-one laughed when he tripped up.

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment