Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind

Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind

Richard Fortey

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 0307275531

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1 comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved; the history of life on earth is far older—and odder—than many of us realize.
Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals continue to mark seminal events in geological time. From a moonlit beach in Delaware, where the hardy horseshoe crab shuffles its way to a frenzy of mass mating just as it did 450 million years ago, to the dense rainforests of New Zealand, where the elusive, unprepossessing velvet worm has burrowed deep into rotting timber since before the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, to a stretch of Australian coastline with stromatolite formations that bear witness to the Precambrian dawn, the existence of these survivors offers us a tantalizing glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history. These are not “living fossils” but rather a handful of tenacious creatures of days long gone.
Written in buoyant, sparkling prose, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a marvelously captivating exploration of the world’s old-timers combining the very best of science writing with an explorer’s sense of adventure and wonder.
















Wispy grasses and lichens seem to provide little sustenance for such big animals, but they find something worth picking at on the damp ground. Around these hot springs, the two ends of the tree of life are drawn together. Archaea, bacteria and algae spilling out of the pools in their coloured oozes speak of a time when life and the planet were young, when the land was bare; when wrinkled and dimpled surfaces sported the first communities that converted energy into replication. These organisms

(water bears) tarsier Tasmanian devil Tasmanian wolf (thylacine) Teinolophos termites, 2.1, 2.2 Tertiary Period, 7.1, 7.2, 10.1 testate amoebae Tethys tetrapods, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, gls.1 Thailand, 1.1, 5.1, 6.1 thermal fields Thermodesulfobacterium hydrogeniphilum thermophiles, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, gls.1 Thermoplasma volcanium Thermus aquaticus and footnote theropod dinosaurs Thiomicrospira Thomas, Bob and Carol Tierra del Fuego tiger shark time havens tinamou, 8.1, 8.2

me back to the Jurassic. Five living trigoniid species are now only found around the coasts of Australia and Tasmania. They contracted in scope, but carried on. Scaphotrigonia, a Jurassic fossil from Europe that is closely related to Neotrigonia, which still lives in Australian waters. (illustration credit ill5.2) Shales of the same Ordovician age that yield both trilobites and the clam Solemya contain further mollusc fossils. One of these is a simple-looking tapering tube, divided on the

most coral reefs are to be found there; as fringing reefs around atolls, or barrier reefs, or scattered patches. Dozens of coral species jostle for light and space, almost as if they were forest trees struggling for space in the canopy. In due turn they make dozens of specialised habitats for fish, urchin, prawn or worm, which is why reefs dazzle with their biological diversity. I should add that deep-water corals that are capable of building quite respectable reefs have been collected in recent

problems that have to be considered in getting there. The trees are probably best left as undisturbed as possible in their secret redoubt. Even though I did not get there, it must earn a mention. Nowadays, it is possible to buy small seedlings in certain garden centres in the United Kingdom. How soon the recherché becomes commonplace. Further research on Wollemia revealed that the tree was once much more widespread. The male cones produce very distinctive pollen. Surprising as it may seem, tiny

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