Once again, our beloved paleoentomology nerdlings at ScienceDaily.com have failed to disappoint.
I just had to get a load of this particular 300-million-year-old Great-Great-Granddaddy Long Legs.
It reminded me of when I first caught a glimpse of a 49-million-year-old spider, as I wrote about a few months ago in my piece entitled, appropriately enough, 49-Million-Year Old Spider! Well, old Daddy Long Legs has my previous ancient arachnid beat by over 250 million years. Not too shabby, gramps!
As the article reveals, “An international team, led by researchers from Imperial College London, have created 3-D models of two fossilised species of harvestmen, from the Dyspnoi and Eupnoi suborders. The ancient creatures lived on Earth before the dinosaurs, in the Carboniferous period.”
Or as we might put it, “Super-Old Spiders Go 3-D!”
Now before you go off on a ‘Starship Troopers Monster Bugs from Mars’ reverie, I have to tell you these old-school creepy-crawlies weren’t so super-colossal in proportion. One centimetre. Button-sized pretty well sums it up. Small buttons, at that.
So why is geekdom all jazzed up about new three-dimensional virtual fossil models? The darn things look just like they do now. What’s the big deal?
You may well ask! I know I did.
And in the question lies the answer. It’s like the famous Sherlock Holmes schtick from the short story Silver Blaze.
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
The fact that it has done nothing is, in and of itself, a most remarkable phenomenon.
Aside from a minor increase in size, today’s modern daddy long legs is virtually indistinguishable from its 300-million-year-old relatives. They haven’t changed. They haven’t evolved. They’ve stayed exactly the same for hundreds of millions of years. Try and imagine that. At a time when other primitive spiders and scorpions were just beginning to get their Darwinian act together, daddy long legs was already done! It achieved its evolutionary peak at the dawn of time. It didn’t evolve further because it didn’t need to.
Dr Russell Garwood, who carried out the research, says, “It is absolutely remarkable how little harvestmen have changed in appearance since before the dinosaurs. If you went out into the garden and found one of these creatures today it would be like holding a little bit of prehistory in your hands. We can’t yet be sure why harvestmen appear so modern when most land animals, including their cousins such as scorpions, were in such a primitive form at the time. It may be because they evolved early to be good at what they do, and their bodies did not need to change any further.”
So the next time you see one of these fascinating creatures, take the time to appreciate the little eight-legged miracle skittering about. There’s a very good reason it looks exactly the way it does.
You can’t improve on perfection.