Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fresno Nightcrawler Variant 2: Hyperdimensional Anomalocaris

Here's another speculative variation on the California "wishbone" cryptid.

Anomalocarids were a taxonomic group of large marine predatory invertebrates of the Paleozoic. Though they have no direct descendants, fossil evidence indicates that they were close relatives of arthropods, tardigrades and a small phylum of animals known as onycophorans, or velvet worms.

Various species of anomalocarids and their close relatives. Clockwise from top right: Schinderhannes bartelsi, Pambdelurion whittingtoni, Peytoia (Laggania) nathorsti, Anomalocaris canadensis, Amplectobelua symbrachiata, Hurdia victoria, Opabinia regalis, Kerygmachela kierkegaardi

Anomalocarids propelled themselves through the water using a series of lobes or fins along their sides that they waved in a sinuous motion rather like the wings of a stingray or the fins of a squid. The most distinctive feature of anomalocarids, however, was the pair of jointed Great Appendages that sprouted just in front of their mouths. In most species, these mandibles were adorned with sharp spines to help them capture and tear apart prey. Some of these creatures, however, developed into giant, gentle filter-feeders, using the elongated spines on their Great Appendages like strainers to catch plankton.

More anomalocarids. Top: Hurdia victoria. Bottom: Stanleycaris hirpex

Anomalocarid fossils were for a long time only known from the Cambrian period- the earliest age of large, multicellular mobile animals. But the discovery in 2009 of Schinderhannes bartelsi in the Hunsr├╝ck Slate of Germany extended their range all the way to the Devonian.

I've long been a fan of anomalocarids, as you can probably tell from all the drawings I've done of them. Heck, I've even designed a couple speculative species, like this one here.

My Speculative Hermit Anomalocaris, Repticaris caerulea.
In an interesting instance of life imitating art, one of my speculative animals even "predicted" the discovery of one of the first known filter-feeding anomalocarids called Tamisiocaris. Here's a picture of my invented animal, Cetimimus barbus:

And here's a reconstruction of Tamisiocaris by Rob Nicholls:

So, anyway, what's this got to do with the Fresno Nightcrawler? Well, while watching those two famous videos, I couldn't help noticing that the critter's legs looked a bit like anomalocarid Great Appendages (of course, when you've constantly got anomalocarids on the brain like me, it's not hard to see them everywhere). I started wondering: what if the weird "walking wishbone" we see is only a small part of a larger animal? What if the rest of it exists in another dimension we can't perceive? Perhaps the walking "legs" are actually modified mandibles that tow the animal along. Here I have imagined the creature's lateral swimming lobes having become huge flaps, forming a net or basket for capturing "astral plankton" which floats all around us just a few dimensions away. 

On a final note, this won't be the last time you see me interpret a cryptid as a sort of unusual anomalocarid. Stay tuned for more! 

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