A Note on This Article's Form
I'd like to share some amazing Paleozoic creatures with you based on several samples from my fossil collection, but in a nontraditional short-story form. As I wrote it with the purpose to inform and inspire, it evolved into something more meaningful that everyone can determine for themselves. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I have enjoyed writing it!
The Story of the Bravest Little Millipede
There once was a little millipede who was the bravest of them all. He lived during an amazing time period on Earth best known for its explosion of life—the Devonian. The era was so full of new life forms that it's been called the “Age of Fish,” “Age of Forests,” “Age of Vertebrates” and “Age of Amphibians,” plus a few other names. The story begins, if you can imagine, over 400 million years ago. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn from the bravest little millipede's story.
One day, the bravest little millipede was feeling fed up with the repeated attacks imposed upon him and his kind. Countless varieties of ancient deep-sea predators shared his beloved habitat and he and his millipede friends were at the bottom of the food chain.
To you and me, their enemies would have been fascinating creatures to marvel at. But because of the meager size of the millipedes, they thought of them as cold-blooded beasts.
Day after day, the bravest millipede's sadness grew to the point where it became overwhelming, especially whenever he witnessed his milli-mates being taken down by one of their foes. Whenever that happened, he was left feeling helpless, as he was only able to scamper under the sandy seafloor with the use of his hundred or so legs to save himself.
The Threat of the Eurypterid Sea Scorpions
One of the most frightening threats came from the clamping claws of the eurypterid sea scorpions. They were the millipedes' worst enemy and the most ill-tempered. In his mind, it was a cruel twist of nature to be betrayed by a cousin arthropod; creatures like him, but possessing segmented bodies and jointed legs.
The Threat of the Trilobites
Even certain arthropod trilobites unjustly preyed upon them. Most trilobites were gentle creatures, but a few of their species had adapted predatory skills, like that of raptor birds equipped with speed and sharp vision. The harmless millipedes were defenseless against those types.
All the ancient sea-beings referred to them as “lens-faces” because their eyes possessed multiple lenses that wrapped around their heads, providing a panoramic vision, even when they swam upside down. If one of those threatening types spotted an unsuspecting millipede, it seldom had ample time to escape.
The millipedes were the simplest seafloor dwellers. They spent much of their days milling around on the seabed feeding on decayed matter, which helped to keep the habitat clean. And they were never a threat to others!
The Threat of the Cephalopods
Yet, another more random threat came from the cephalopods. They possessed large powerful tentacles and acquired the biggest brains of all the ocean creatures. First, there were the cephalopod nautiloids, such as Orthoceras with their long straight shells. They could crush the hard exoskeleton shells of most other sea creatures and could pluck just about anything into their grip with amazing accuracy. No animal was safe from them so long as it was within their grasp.
Emergence of the Ammonites
Later, the cephalopod nautiloid cousins came along—the ammonites. The ammonites had adapted a more maneuverable coiled shell and eventually dominated the ancient seas over their straight-shelled relatives. The nautilus of today is related to them.
But from the little millipede’s perspective, they all were a nasty sort. From a human's perspective, the fossil shells of ammonites are most intriguing. They possess inner chambers composed of beautiful patterns and have been worn as jewelry with symbolic meanings since the time of ancient Egypt.
All the bravest little millipede truly ever wanted to do was to fulfill his role of keeping his ocean territory clean, alongside his milli-mates. But with the inflow of more and more newcomers, menacing organisms, he feared his kind would ultimately be extinguished unless something changed. Ideas were beginning to stir inside him, but he wasn't ready to act upon them—not yet anyway!
The bravest little millipede had never known of anything other than a marine world filled with numerous varieties of invertebrate creatures, all of which lacked a backbone. The final straw for him happened the day the vertebrate creatures showed up. The vertebrates were swift and agile, but worst of all, many were hungry for millipedes.
Arrival of the Ostracoderm and Placoderm
Arriving first were the vertebrate ostracoderm fish with their sleek, slippery bodies layered with heavy armored plates over their upper torsos. Thereafter, the magnificent placoderm fish evolved. Unlike the ostracoderm fish, they wore more elaborate armored plates and flaunted a wide assortment of lavish fins and spikes for added protection.
Not only were they yet another marvel of nature, they were awesome predators with their progressive adaptations of jawbones and boney-blades for teeth, and some reached impressive sizes. Dunkleoteus placoderm fish was the T-Rex of the Devonian seas. They were another ornery bunch and the top predators with the ability to chomp down on any living creature of their time!
The Bravest Little Millipede Decides to Explore the Land
The little millipede was beside himself and searched deep inside his soul for a solution to his species' troubling predicament. He consulted with his milli-mates one by one. He arranged for a milli-summit meeting of the milli-minds. They brainstormed and discussed and debated for hours until finally, they all agreed on a split decision.
The majority of the million millipedes would remain in the ocean trenches and protect one another by using a newly devised milli-buddy system. That even became the beginning of milli-marriages! Next, the bravest little millipede was to lead a group out from the ocean waters and become the first creatures to ever explore land. Such a prospect was unheard of, but the bravest little millipede was no ordinary creature. Instinctively, his followers believed in his bravery and intelligence.
The Millipedes Move Out of the Ocean
The day had finally arrived for the momentous march of the millipedes out from their beloved water-world onto the alien land-place. The wise little millipede had chosen a location to land offshore that curved inland, entering a cool, calm lagoon. Ideally, it avoided the turbulent breakwaters of the Rheic Ocean which bordered the great continent of Gondwana.
The bravest little millipede was the first one to pop his head out from the water surface and gaze his eyes upon a Devonian landscape. His body automatically took in its first breath of fresh air, applying the use of special tube openings. The air was untarnished and crisp, with an aroma of prolific leaves mixed with a marvelous scent of decaying organic material. It whetted his appetite briefly until his eyes were steered higher and higher along the trunk of an ancient Archeopteris tree.
Through the treetop canopy, he witnessed a light more powerful and brighter than he ever knew possible. He was captured momentarily by the shimmering streaks of light filtering through the branches and it gave him a comforting feeling that he had chosen the right place to start a new life for himself and his milli-mates.
The bravest little millipede snapped out of his daze and focused on his mission to crawl out from the temporary safety of the ocean water and onto the unknown world of land. He then proceeded to lead and encourage his milli-troop's first-ever steps onto dry land.
To the troops' surprise, the ground was beneficially moist due to the hothouse climate that recycled warm moist air on a continual basis and dripped it back to Earth. But fear set in and the multitude of milli-troops scurried into the underbrush for protection—all but the bravest one.
He had set his sights up above, fascinated by the giant trees, some of which reached thirty meters into the sky. Archeopteris trees dominated the forest and provided shade that protected the pioneer millipedes from the heat and intense ultraviolet rays of the sun. Other midsize fern trees such as Psaronius and Medullosa sealed the shady environment.
The Millipedes Thrive in the First Forest
The millipedes didn't know it, but they had stepped into one of Earth's first forests, thick with frond trees, wispy shrubs, spreading mosses, ferns and spiny herbaceous plants. Plus, off in the distance beyond the lagoon, the bravest millipede noticed a grouping of more trees called lycopods which always hovered near water pools.
The forest provided plenty of decaying nourishment for all the millipedes to eat and eat and eat. The bravest little millipede and his milli-mates did just that and eventually grew bigger and stronger. The efforts and risks they had taken rewarded them with the happy lives they had so desperately and bravely sought and fought for!
One day, the bravest millipede looked up again at the light shining through the forest trees. His curiosity to know where it came from led him on another exploration. He decided to crawl up the bumpy trunk of an Archeopteris tree thinking he could touch the mysterious light.