Anomalocaris really does know how it feels to be a bit of an anomaly… and he’s not the only one.

Many moons ago railroad workers in the Canadian Rockies took time off from amusing themselves by freezing off various body parts and instead took to finding some rather amusing shaped rocks. When word of the stony-bugs from the back of beyond reached the palaeontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott he went to take a looksy for himself. There the esteemed gent found some of the most remarkable curiosities in a marvellous state of preservation; there were even squishy creatures in the fossil beds.

Such wibbly bits are very rarely preserved and so when Charles first found a jellyfish that seemed to be tussling with a prawn he could do little else but marvel upon it and place it lovingly with the other sixty five thousand specimens he’d been working on.

... anomalocaris and the rest of the burgess shale gang loved slacks...

Charles returned the next year, and the proceeding year after that… oh… and for the next twenty-three years, tirelessly describing these fossils of the Burgess shale. He toiled away meticulously describing the stone bugs, crow-barring the fossils into the families of existing animals, before finally passing away three years later at the ripe old age of seventy seven. Though he passed peacefully it was a tragic death, like an impoverished artist he died without realising the true worth of his toils.

Other palaeontologists found sponges, in the vicinity of other specimens of the prawns and jellyfish first described by Mr Walcott Esq. Soon it became clear that these weren’t ancient sea creatures having a salty shindig… they were in fact one creature… the jellyfish is in fact a mouth, those prawns were graspers, the sponge would have been abominable at bath-time and was actually a body… it was in fact a relatively huge predator from the Cambrian period.

... one is partial to a shrimp cocktail...

As more recent learned types have poured over Walcott’s specimens from the Burgess shale they’ve begun to realize just how remarkable they are. These aren’t ancient shrimp, odd old jellyfish and wormy ancestors. They are a cornucopia of creatures that have no relatives left, odd little thingamujigs that we have nothing left on the planet to even vaguely compare them to. Not only that but these creatures have re-evaluated how we look at these extinct creatures… the tree of life isn’t a small sapling with a few families branching out here and there… it is a magnificent oak with huge branches reaching out. Somewhere near the top is an unremarkable branch, just a tiny fraction of the size of the whole tree, and every single one of the millions upon millions of animals that live on our planet is represented by this simple bough… and all the sprigs below it have fallen… and each tiny twig on every single branch a little anomaly… just like the odd little shrimp from a set of fossils that redefined the tree of life.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  


Mightier than T rex, bigger than Gigantosaurus, originally called Absolutelyfreakinmassivosaurus, but then everyone realised that that was silly and couldn’t think of what to call it if they ever found a bigger one. Meet Spinosaurus

... gah...

It was huge… the size and weight of a London bus, just not as red, without wheels, not full of people though it probably would be given half the chance… erm altogether more bitey… perhaps one should have ended this metaphor a while back… the biggest predatory dinosaur that ever lived.

That said there is some controversy about whether Spinosaurus was the biggest dinosaur predator. For a start there were only a few bits and bobs of its skeleton ever found, and most of those that were found were destroyed when the museum was bombed in World War II. The bits that were dug up in the desert sands of Egypt were mainly fragments of skull, and it has been quite rightly pointed out that you can’t extrapolate the size of the body because it has a large skull, it might just have a big noggin, and what’s more it might feel a mite sensitive if you keep on going on about it.

Still we at The Proceedings of the Ever so Strange like to think that this terrible spiny sod was the biggest chomper that ever lived. One thing that made this monster even more monstrous is it had a massive sail on its back. The reason for which could be a number of explanations; it could be to attract the female Spinosaurus… like a peacock’s tail. Or it could be to regulate heat… big animals get rather hot, and have to evolve ways to get rid of heat… sounds a bit odd I know… but think of the elephant’s ear…

... you won't be so bloody wavey and cheery when the rainbow gang catch up with you sunshine...

Now where were we… yes… how did this tremendous ruffian get so gigantic? One theory is that he was water bound, making it easier to support his hulking frame, whiling away his days sloshing around in the wet stuff chomping on fish. It is a fairly compelling theory, one of the few fossils that have been found was found with fish scales in its belly. What’s more if you look at the modern day gharial, a crocodile that is rather well adapted to eating fish, you can see that while not being graced with a face that will grace the cover of Harper’s Bazar it would be good at chomping down on Cretaceous sashimi. Another thought that has been banded around The Proceedings is that Spinosaurus was more of an opportunistic feeder… much like today’s fearsome grizzly bear… though the Spinosaurus was about thirty times bigger and could have gobbled him up like a furry sausage.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment