The Colossal Creepy Crawlies
As you know, our Earth has been around for an extraordinarily and immensely long time. Geologists have, through relative and absolute age dating methods, calculated that Earth has been in existence for 4.6 billion years. Homo sapiens have only existed for the last 200,000 years, an absolutely minuscule amount of time in comparison to Earth’s. This being in mind, it really does make you wonder what existed before the age of man.
237 million years ago, the world was dominated not by man, but creatures we generalise as dinosaurs. We’ve all heard of these ‘dinosaurs’: the most renown and infamous T-Rex, who’s known for being a massive carnivore or the Triceratops, a three-horned herbivore that gives even the most ferocious carnivores a run for their money. However, so many more unique fossils have been uncovered and amassed, with their existence expanding and diversifying the way we look at organisms which we see today, say your average crocodile or birds.
In this article, we travel back 300 million years before, an age known as the Carboniferous period (of the late Palaeozoic Era) and precursor to the dinosaurs we know. In this period, the world had the highest atmospheric oxygen levels the Earth has EVER experienced, and it provided the evolution of the earliest reptiles. The term ‘Carboniferous’ derives from the large accumulation of coal produced from the rapid growth and death rates of the plants, allowing for high decomposition into coal and other sediments. From this, you probably may have realised that there were vast numbers of plants that no doubt dominated the Earth, say a very green gigantic megalopolis though the world was encompassed with huge amounts of water as well. However, with plants comes consumers, and we refer to them as insects, ‘Creepy Crawlies’ and reptiles. But in this era, they were a lot BIGGER.
Take for example the Megarachne. The Megarachne from Argentina was estimated to have a leg span of 50 centimetres, being similar in size to the fictional ‘Facehuggers’ from the Aliens franchise, and is frankly terrifying if we compare it to the common house spiders today, even to those who don’t fear them. Though it is technically an extinct genus of ‘Eurypterid’ or ‘Sea-Scorpion’, it generally shared the monstrous appearance of the spiders we see today.
They roamed the freshwater for prey and grew to its approximately large size due to the vast amount of oxygen released by the vegetation there, along with the very humid, tropical climate and vast amount of prey that existed. In the past this creature was shrouded in mystery in terms of what it was. Was it a spider? A Sea-scorpion? Previous reconstructions as seen in museums for twenty-five years between its discovery and re-examinations have been incorrect and it shows how odd and unique these organisms were and shows how interesting and different life was far before the time of man.
Another example would be the Arthropleura. An extinct genus of millipede arthropods that existed in North America and Scotland. Famed to be the biggest land invertebrates of all time, it ranged from 0.3 to 2.6 metres in length and a width up to 50 centimetres in width and was composed of approximately 30 segments, each covered by 2 side plates and 1 centre plate.
Similar to the Megarachne, its abnormally massive size was due to the huge oxygen content and roamed forest floors with haste and swerved from obstacles like rocks or trees. However, due to the change in environment to desert-like environments, it slowly died out due to its characteristics needing moisture, derived from their ancestry of Crustaceans. The Arthropleura was shrouded in mystery, especially with its diet, whether it was a ravenous carnivore or a plant-loving herbivore due to no fossilised mouths of theirs were uncovered. Paleontologists needed to instead investigate digestive tract and discovered essence of pollen, differentiating from all carnivores and hence indicated its herbivorous nature. Despite its terrifying appearance, its origins and characteristics are so spectacular and intriguing and perhaps it, along with Megarachne, still hold many more secrets, waiting to be discovered.
This Earth is such a unique place, and its history defines how amazing this planet truly is. Despite the wonders of the present such as technology i.e. smart phones, computers, tablets, drones etc. we need to remember that our present isn’t the only thing we can invest our minds on. There is much more that we can learn and the ancient past of our beautiful planet, is a great place to begin.