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Otters Oddities

"....And when the girls went swimming, the creature grabbed them from below and devoured them to death! And that's why no one goes swimming in Old Man Greeley's pond."

First off, never swim in a body of water named after 'Old Man' anyone. Unless of course, you're starring in the latest Scooby Doo movie.


Second, judging by most of the ponds I see, you wouldn't want to swim in them anyway. I know there are some that are nice and pleasant. But most have that algae film on the surface. You know, the stuff they call 'pond scum'. Plus, most are fairly shallow and have bottoms made out of 85% muck, 10% decomposing vegetation, and 5% rusty cars. Not the best place to swim.

And don't even talk to me about farm ponds. I know all about those. Most are just called farm ponds. What they really are is a place where rain water pools after collecting all the cow and pig poop.

Like I said though, some ponds are ok. I remember one that was in the middle of a farmers field near our house in Pennsylvania. It was about 1/3 acre in size and was horse shoe shaped. There was a tree, a big one with branches and leaves, that grew on the peninsula. The pond was full of fish. Me and my friend got permission from the farmer to fish there when ever we wanted. When I say it was full of fish, I'm not kidding. You could seriously use a stick, some twine and a safety pin to catch the fish. I know, because we did. And bologna was the best bait.

Sounds great, right? Well, it was. Up to a point. You see, the only fish in the pond were Bullheads. Bullheads are a type of catfish. However, they have three very sharp spikes growing out the back of their heads. This requires you to grab them in a very specific way, otherwise, you'll bleed. A lot. Plus, they were only good to eat when the water was cold in the spring, and if you were really stupid. All in all, they were not really worth catching, so we didn't fish there very often.


But who cares about Bullheads? Today is Tell The Truth Tuesday! And I know all of you are just waiting to hear the truth about yesterdays post.

And the truth is: I was telling the truth.

On his first voyage of exploration where he 'discovered' Fiji, New Zealand and Tasmania, Abel missed the continent of Australia. In his defense, he sailed north of New Guinea and on to New Zealand. There he sailed along the west coast until he turned West. There he sailed to Tasmania, where he rounded the southern shore before continuing West and heading home. He was never in sight of Australia.


In his next voyage in 1644, he did map most of Australia's northern coast, though. So he did eventually get there. But he missed it on his first trip.

So, who want's to hear about a scary monster? And yes, monsters are real. I mean, depends on your definition of 'monster' I guess. Some people are monsters. Like John Wayne Gacey. And whomever invented sauerkraut.


But mosters, like Frankensteins monster, or Dracula, or the Wolfman, or Nessie, or Sasquatch... well, they aren't real. Are they? No. They aren't. Can I prove it? No, because I can't prove that negative. But I can make compelling arguments against them. Not that it makes me happy to do so, but I have to be realistic. Cryptids like Nessie or Big Foot would be nice to have. But the evidence that supports them is incredibly flimsy, while evidence against them is not quite as flimsy.

But, believe me, if anyone out there want's a plesiosaur or Australopithecus to be real, it's me.


However, the monster I have pictured at the start of this post is real. 100% real. It has a name and everything. We call him Frank. No....that was a joke. What we call it is Opabinia regalis. (second name is supposed to be non-capitialized...)

And where can you find Opabinia today? Why, in many respectable museums, of course. You see, Opabinia isn't around anymore. And hasn't been for a long time. They may have lived until the Late Devonian die-off 360 million years ago, but they may have also died out before that. We do know that they first appeared in the fossil record during the Cambrian period.


The first specimens were found by Charles Doolittle Walcott in the Burgess Shale formations in the Canadian Rockies. He would have made a huge del about finding this monster, except he found a lot of other monsters at the same time.

Some of the examples Walcott found were new, never seen before examples of early life. Others were examples of life that had already been found in other locations. Primarily trilobites. However, the thing that made the Burgess discoveries so spectacular was, many of the new finds, like Opabinia, were not shelled creatures like trilobites. that is, they didn't have the hard exo-skelleton that trilobites shed. They were entirely soft bodied.


As you may remember me telling you, soft bodied fossils are extremely rare. For the soft tissue of a creature to be preserved, an insane number of criteria need to be met. Today the discovery of a fossil with soft tissue evidence is still a huge deal, even though it is becoming slightly more common. Some examples of dinosaur tissue have been found.

The Burgess Shale finds were some of the first soft bodied fossils to be found, and they were found in massive quantities. Until Walcott uncovered examples of soft bodied trilobite fossils, the legs and antennae could only be speculated at. He made it possible to know that trilobites had gills on their legs!


While there were many strange creatures found, Opabinia has to be one of the most unusual. It had no discernible legs. It had five eyes. The only appendage it had appeared to be a single proboscis that was tipped with claws. Clearly this was not a creature you wanted to meet while swimming!

There is some speculation that Opabinia might possibly have had legs. Newer examples show evidence that they might, just possibly, could have had them, But the evidence is very subjective and inconclusive. (only 20 good, nearly complete specimens comprising three separate species have been found. Many partials exist, but they make interpretation difficult if they are missing parts.).


With it's five eyes, it is thought Opabinia had 360 degree vision. All the better to see you with. It was a predatory creature that like to feed on whatever it's claws could grab. So, be thankful they're extinct. Otherwise, they might eat you!

Well....not really. I suppose I should mention that they wouldn't have posed any threat to humans. Unless you were allergic to them. I mean, they were only 2 1/2 inches long, after all. About the right size to be kept in an aquarium. In fact, the apex predator of the era, Anomalocaris, only reached about 3 feet in length. (one specimen in China reached a length of 6 feet, but it was incomplete, and scientists aren't sure it's an Anomalocaris, or an entirely new creature).


So I guess you really don't have to fear this monster either. Not only did it die out hundreds of millions of years ago, it was about the same size as a cocktail shrimp. Maybe just as tasty, too.

Sometimes I wish we'd find these old 'monsters' alive and well in some deep, dark trench in the oceans. but we won't. And why won't we? Because we aren't looking. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the ocean floor. Make sense to you?


Ah well....I'll be back tomorrow with more exciting adventures of.....I mean, another interesting oddity.

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