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My favourite extinct monster is anomalocaris. Creatures during the Cambrian period were so strange looking. Which makes them interesting! Anomalocaris was basically a gigantic brine shrimp with an appetite for anything smaller than itself. Which was everything, because it was the largest animal in the world when it was alive!

Guess I just always found it fascinating that half a billon years ago, Earth was essentially an alien planet. Things could’ve ended up very differently...

So probably the weirdest Cambrian creature was this little beast. It's called Opabinia.

About the size of a mouse, and probably a relative of anomalocaris. Opabinia is mostly unlike any other creature we've ever found on Earth. Five eyes and an odd little trunk with a grabby thing on the end. In an incredibly bizarre form of convergent evolution, it probably used this appendage to eat in much the same way an elephant uses its trunk!

Funnily, the closest living relative of opabinia is probably the tardigrade.

Tardigrades are tiny, near-microscopic invertebrates which are found all over the world. They're also famous for being incredibly resilient, being able to survive things which would kill most other animals instantly – including extremes of temperature and pressure, dehydration, air deprivation, and radiation exposure. In experiments, they've even survived brief exposure to space.

@InvaderXan I love the diverse weirdness of the Cambrian explosion. the Burgess Shale is just north of me, up in Canada, and I've been tempted to go up there several times--but I'm pretty sure they don't let amateurs like me wander around popping open bits of shale and looking for critters. XD

@troodon
You should go! I can’t speak for Canada, but in the UK it’s perfectly fine for amateurs to take a hammer and chisel and go looking for fossils. I’ve been several times. You never know what you might find inside those rocks!

@InvaderXan I've been reading Skeleton Keys by Brian Switek, which follows the evolution of bone, and he comes to the same conclusion of "life was fucking weird and nothing that we consider normal was inevitable or even likely"

@bedap
That seems like the only logical conclusion TBH. Which really makes me wonder how bizarre life could be on other planets. I have my suspicions it'll be simultaneously unbelievably strange and eerily familiar.

Thanks for the book recommendation too!

@InvaderXan how I would love to meet other planetary life. I worry that it might be so variable and strange that I may not even recognize it as such, no matter how much I prepare for that possibility.

@bedap I’ve spent a lot of time considering things like this. Even today, Earth is home to environments which are utterly alien compared to our everyday lives. And it’s fascinating how evolution makes certain patterns recur. It makes me wonder if those patterns may recur even on other worlds.

Which reminds me, I really should do some writing...

@InvaderXan I wonder too. I bet many of the more common recurrences would be unexpected.

What are you writing? Is it exobiology related? 😍

@bedap Among other things, far future epic solarpunk space opera. ☀️

@InvaderXan I love it! I've been wanting to write a solarpunk story for so long, but I just can't nail down a world or a plot 😂

@bedap
Three pieces of advice:

• Keep a text file on your phone, or carry a notepad. Write down any and all ideas you have, even if you think they’re no good

• Daydream. It helps with ideas!

• Think about story as well as plot. Consider what themes you’d like to write about and how to portray them

@InvaderXan @bedap

*sighs*
:>

Sometimes I feel sad that all the potential different kinds of life will never be expressed. That we're just heading down a narrower and narrower path with every hundred million years.. (which is slow by most standards I'll admit XD)

But the potential is there just as much! It's just the competition that keeps it from happening!

*petition for a wildlife project*
We just have to make a safe space for them :>
...and wait a few million years XD

The Recambrian!

@InvaderXan
LOVE tardigrades! Even before Star Trek gave them their deserved moment in the spotlight.

ST: DISCO spoilers? Season 1 Show more

ST: DISCO spoilers? Season 1 Show more

ST: DISCO spoilers? Season 1 Show more

ST: DISCO spoilers? Season 1 Show more

@daylight
All in time, friend. Whatever you can, whenever you can. I'm just... excitable, I guess. :P

@InvaderXan
The tardigrade is sort of the mascot of Amsterdam's excellent museum (zoo?) of microbes, Micropia.

micropia.nl/en/

@InvaderXan
It's excellent - most of the exhibits are stereo microscopes looking at live cultures prepared in the lab (you can watch). The microscopes are servo-controlled so the public can follow microbes around and focus up and down but can't wreck the machine.

@anne Oh, that’s delightful. I need to visit this place!

@InvaderXan
Next to the zoo and about two blocks from the botanical garden.

@g
Lovely little things. I really wonder what they were actually like!

@wu_lee
Oh, interesting. Late Carboniferous. Interesting little beastie, I hadn't heard of it before!

@InvaderXan almost as if single-celled organisms just grew more cells and became larger... 🤔

@0gust1
Yep! A little under 2m. Not as big as things which came later, but it was the first animal which ever grew that big!

@InvaderXan I love that it's name means 'we don't know what the heck this is.' And that they thought it was 3 different animals at first because they found mouth parts, feeding appendages and tail in different places. It's an alien basically. I mean 'feeding appendages' is a big tip off. I love evolutionary biology.

@ewankeep
Pretty much. Though the name means “weird shrimp” and it was named after those feeding appendages! Which do look kinda like weird shrimp...

@InvaderXan Oh, my mistake then. I watched a science show which explained anomalocaris's name as derived from 'anomaly' because it was so weird they couldn't figure it out. But, hey, TV science isn't known to be super accurate.

@ewankeep
They were half right. It's just the reason they couldn't figure it out was that they didn't realise they weren't actually looking at the entire animal!

@InvaderXan I remember reading a delightfully dry description of the breadth of the eating habits of the harvestman, something like:

"anything that does not exceed the dimensions of its trophic apparatus and has little chance of reversing the direction of the predator-prey interaction"

(From "Harvestmen: The Biology of Opiliones", though not an exact quote)

OK, found the actual quote on page 310, thanks to Google Books:

« As stated earlier, most authors characterize harvestmen as generalist feeders, emphasizing the large number of food items they can consume. This view has led to the conclusion that harvestman feeding behavior shows little or no trace of discrimination. » [cont...]

« However, a detailed analysis of the available data strongly suggests that most harvestmen have a preferred set of prey types, including both size classes and taxonomic affiliations. Prey that represent a higher cost than benefit for harvestmen include animals that are beyond the size range of their trophic apparatus (chelicerae and in some cases also the pedipalps), chemically noxious prey, and those arthropods that have the capacity to reverse the direction of the predator-prey interaction. »

Translation: "It's not true that harvestmen are indiscriminate eaters! For example, they don't eat things larger than their mouths, or things that can eat them first."

@varx
Funny, you could use the same reasoning to argue that triops aren’t indiscriminate esters – and they’ll eat literally anything.

Triops also have kind of a Cambrian look about them...

@InvaderXan One time my biology teacher teamed up with a local library focused on fantasy literature and they wanted us to make/draw posters with weird made up creatures and landscapes from another planet - it was a bit weird overall but this thread reminds me of this. Reality is so much wilder than what we came up with ;D
These are amazing!

@Virelai
So true. Take the weirdest thing you can imagine, and nature has probably done something weirder. That thought just amazes me. And I’m sure there’s plenty that remains unknown to us!

@InvaderXan Thanks for making my TL the best guys. Opibinia and tardigrades rock.

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