Let me introduce you to three of my friends: hallucigenia, opabinia, and wiwaxia. They’re all from the Cambrian explosion, the period of time around 500 million years ago when life was just starting and was still trying to figure out questions like “how should a mouth work?” and “legs?”
Hallucigenia was about an inch long (most life back then was tiny, they were only a few eras removed from being single celled after all) and it had sixteen clawed legs, hard spines coming out of its back, and a wicked tentacle neckbeard.
Opabinia was between two to three inches long and it had thirty fins along the side of its body, along with five mushroom shaped eyes on top of its head. By far though, its most interesting feature was its strange proboscis. Like a Dr. Moreau style mashup of an elephant and a lobster, the long nose terminated in a large claw that it used to grab prey and bring it to its backward facing mouth.
Finally, this is wiwaxia. This danger-artichoke was a two inch long armored slug-like creature with no head. In fact, its actual body was largely just its one massive foot.
I find these animals interesting for three main reasons. First, it’s incredibly fascinating to see all of the potential paths that life on earth could have taken. Imagine an ocean filled with elephant lobsters! Second, whenever I feel like my life is going nowhere and all my choices are the wrong ones, I like to think that I’m in in my phase where I’m still developing hallucigenias and wiwaxias, and not yet making awesome things like
butterflies or velociraptors. Finally – it serves as a stark reminder that if we ever find alien life, there is a fantastic chance it will look like nothing we’ve ever seen before – it might look more like one of these creatures than a human being.
The Cambrian explosion is my go to chill out meditative tool. Look at all this teeming monster life, just living their monster lives. It makes me feel so so small.