Deporting a rather large one a few days ago, I remembered an email that I wrote (as it turns out, almost exactly) five years ago. In the interests of demonstrating how very far I’ve come, I thought I might share it with you below. Apologies if the links no longer work. Separate apologies for the language; I guess I wrote with more cusses back then.
I’m sure you you’ve seen fossils or at least illustrations of them before. Now, I used to think that nobody knew what trilobites were, but a few years ago I started to get a sense that EVERYbody was in the know. That’s not the point of this message, but it gives me a place to start.
At that time, maybe a decade ago, I was quite big on the shelly little guys, still coasting on a wave of obsession that peaked somewhere around age seven. From the time I was that wee first grader, until the point when I discovered that they perhaps had more public support than I had thought, I have to admit that assuming that I was one of few trilobite supporters did give me a certain sense of independent pride.
In a very real way, it was like rooting for an underdog. Trilobites became extinct during the late Permian period, before all but the most primitive dinosaurs had evolved. They weren’t particularly huge. Or ravenous. Or fast. They weren’t depicted as overly noble or sexy creatures. Most often, they were painted as irksome scuttlers, meandering across an equally primitive ocean floor. Some were herbivores, but the rest were scavengers or (even worse) detrivores. They were an insipid opening act, warming Gaia up for the big show that was to become everybody’s favourite pre-historic beasties, the thunder lizards.
Now, as I grew a little taller, I sensed more and more that there were others around me who dug trilobites, too. In all cases with other bits of knowledge, entertainment, or whatever morsel that I foolishly somehow considered my intimate and exclusive domain, this always managed to distress me a little bit. For me, it usually results in inversely proportional support to what the plebians are throwing their weight behind. Yet, somehow, trilobites seemed to stay dear to my heart. Sure, they were everyone else’s pre-Triassic bitch, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t fancy them, too. And this, my friends, is unfortunately also not the point.
Enter old age. Or at least post-undergraduate ennui, coupled with a drive to keep learning something (no matter how pathetic), as well as a measure of free time. t’s a chance to research again the stuff that was so cool when I was younger. A new Age of Enlightenment looms. In breaks between X-E, Leisure Town, and a Hilarious House of Frightenstein Tribute, I discover bits of information that I hadn’t known when I was younger (or had perhaps forgotten in the time since), including stuff about about trilobites.
It turns out that they were way more diverse that I might have guessed (over 15 000 species). SWELL! some were capable of rolling themselves into a little ball to protect their relatively sensitive bellies, and are often fossilized in a pill-shaped state. NEAT! The soft tissues that made up the legs and most else of the dorsal portions of the animal are seldom preserved as well as ventral components, simply because the calcite that composed their exoskeleton as more resistant to initial decay before fossilization. COO. . .wha?
This required further study, but it wasn’t long before the Lovecraftian truths were revealed unto me.
I leave the bulk of the legwork up to you, in the hopes that you might heed my simple warning to just stay uninformed, if you’ve ever had a place in your heart for fossilized images of trilobites. In fact, yes–here, feel free to stop reading this message and do some colouring.
But if you are truly tempted to know what perhaps should not be known, and are ready to make a journey which you will never, ever be able to take back, let me ask you: HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A TRILOBITE THAT LOOKS LIKE THIS? (Be sure to scroll down to the reconstruction of the ventral limbs.)
That, kids, is fucking creepy. If not for the tick-like semblances of the image alone, then for the simple fact that some one you know has been forced to take one giant squeamish leap back from ignorant bliss. Perhaps my selective memory is playing tricks on me, but I do not remember seeing a single depiction of a trilobite, avec les jambes horribles. Was I just the only one who missed out here, or is there something seriously wrong with the artistic impressions in academic works intended for first-grade students?
I really should have known, and this is finally the point. You see, for the longest time, trilobites were the sole redeeming grace that I had found with the phylum arthropoda. Save them, every single last arthropod that I had had the misfortune to encounter (in real life or through various forms of media) has, without exception, revolted me.
I admit that I’ve grown to conquer a lot of my fears regarding them, mostly by doing silly things. Like touching their blasphemous exoskeletons. And even basic knowledge of biology imparts the notion that they’re utterly key to most every system on Earth. I’ve even come to recognize a beauty within this chitinous phylum over the past few years. But deep down, on a level I struggle to describe without bringing in those wacky concepts that I don’t even believe in, like auras and chi and the duodenum, arthropods still creeped me the fuck out!
And now, the solace that I took in my affection for at least 15 000 species of the phylum has been unceremoniously ripped from my heart. I feel not only a betrayer, but betrayed, as well. You may slander me as a politically incorrect bastard, perhaps even a phylumist in removing my support, but I can assure you that I will sleep all the better knowing that I remain true to my more base instincts.
Take a closer look at that image. They’ve got those feathery-gill-locomotion thingers, too. Ever seen them wave on a modern aquatic arthropod? I have: instant wiggins, kids.
So, there you have it, the motivation for this message: I want it to be known that I am simply writing off the entirety of arthropods. In toto. Save none. Pas d’exceptions. I feel horrible, but it’s what I have to do. Be happy that my initial shock has passed, and I didn’t follow through on my curse to give up on the sum of invertebrates all together!
Many dear things are crumbling around me, boys and girls, and I fear what damage another single piece of truth might reek upon my fragile soul. But don’t be too worried; as long as I may climb into bed each night, confident in the knowledge that the bony tail club of an ankylosaurus was not merely for show, and could rather be used as a most fearsome weapon, I’ll have the strength to face each dawn that comes to me.
Ventral limbs. Bah.