Kathi writes about fossils and other earthly subjects, plus the natural fauna of Michigan, features in her community, poetry, and more.
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.
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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.
Inch by inch he crept, gripping the coarse wood with his numerous legs. When he finally reached the top, he never felt so alive. He thought the sky was the color of love while the light source made his heart beat with trepidation.
As he looked down and out, the sprawl of the forest canopy mirrored the excitement in his soul. He was glad he had made the strenuous crawl up the giant tree and came to understand its lure.
The Millipedes Long Survival
Days passed by, weeks and months; life was good for the bravest little millipede and his milli-mates. There was plenty of oxygen in the air, even more than today. And there was plenty of nourishment available on the ground, plus the absence of predators was the bonus they all had longed for.
Every day of his life he climbed his favorite tree to thank the powers that be. What began as the bravest little millipede’s original thoughts turned into words that transformed into action, which ultimately created a new life for him and his kind! Ironically, of all the creatures that threatened his species' very existence, his has survived the longest!
Sources and Further Reading
Fossils, A Guide to Prehistoric Life by Frank H. T. Rhodes, President Cornell University, Herbert S. Sim and Paul R. Shaffer, 1962
Dr. Heather Wilson from Yale University in Connecticut and Dr. Lyall Anderson from the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh published their study of fossilized millipedes in the 2004 issue of the Journal of Paleontology.
The Complete Guide To Michigan Fossils, Joseph J. Kchodl, University of Michigan Press and Petoskey Publishing Company, 2006
ScienceDaily. (2017). "Ancient animal thought to be first air breather on land loses claim to fame." Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170705132945.htm
Dunham, Will. (2020). "Millipede from Scotland is world's oldest-known land animal." Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-science-millipede/millipede-from-scotland-is-worlds-oldest-known-land-animal-idUSKBN2360RD
The Fossil Forum (thefossilforum.com)
A Guide to the Orders of Trilobites (https://www.trilobites.info/)
Eurypterid | Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurypterid
Lycophyta: Fossil Record. Retrieved from https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/plants/lycophyta/lycofr.html
Nautiloids | Fossils, Facts and Finds. Retreived from https://www.fossils-facts-and-finds.com/nautiloids.html
Nautiloid | Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nautiloid
Prehistoric Earth: A Natural History Wiki | Fandom. Retrieved from https://prehistoric-earth-a-natural-history.fandom.com/wiki/Dunkleosteus
Smithsonian Natural History Museum (https://naturalhistory.si.edu/)
Ostracoderm | New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ostracoderm
Placodermi | Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placodermi
Devonian | Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devonian
Speer, Brian R. and Smith, David, (2011). The Devonian Period. Retrieved from https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/devonian/devonian.php
Bagley, Mary. (2014). "Devonian Period: Climate, Animals & Plants." LiveScience. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/43596-devonian-period.html
Melford, Michael. (n.d.). "Devonian Period." National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/devonian
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Kathi Mirto
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on October 25, 2015:
Well this must be the best biography of a fossil millipede ever! :) Glad it ended as it did, as the millipede is still here today and all those others who preyed upon it have gone. What's more of course the millipedes had their own spell of greatness - growing to huge size 300 million years ago!
I am envious of your fossils Kathi, and I am glad to see this story has received the accolades it has from other writers. Best wishes, Alun
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on April 10, 2011:
Hello W.R., Thank you for the kind compliment. You're funny!
W.R. Shinn on April 09, 2011:
Awesome! Thanks. Is our world that old? Wow! Sincerely, W.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on March 18, 2011:
Oh thank you, that's a great compliment. I'm thinking about modifying it for a children's book! Bless you
Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on March 18, 2011:
I loved this! The combination of the fossils, the drawings, and the engaging story of the struggle for survival was just awesome! I wish I'd had this to read to my daughter when she was younger.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on March 17, 2011:
Hi Jackie, Very nice to meet you! I'm sorry to learn of your brother's death. Wonder whatever happened to his collection? I love that kind of stuff! I'll be seeing you and look forward to reading your hubs! Smiles
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on March 17, 2011:
This was great and my oldest brother who passed away years ago that I am now older than, found things like these but he was mostly into the arrowhead and Indian things I have two or three and his were suppose to go to a museum after his death but I heard no more about them, but there was many, he did it for years, and reading your profile it seems we both were looking for escape coming here and found much more. I will be so interested to follow you and see all the wonderful things you have to say.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on March 08, 2011:
Hi Chatkath, My name is Kathi too and when I was a little girl I begged my mother for a Chatty Cathy doll for Christmas and Birthdays, but never got her. Now I make her pay for it, isn't that horrible of me? lol, I see Colin is up to his match making again. Anybody he sends my way I trust has quality, character and, of course, something interesting to share. Nice to meet you. I can't wait to read your hubs too!
Kathy from California on March 07, 2011:
I am impressed fossillady! Colin said that I would be! Can't wait to visit the rest of your hubs! Thank you for sharing such awesome stuff.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 23, 2011:
well welcome to the hub sue, thanks for following me, i'll do the same for you and cant's wait to read your articles. thank you for the kind compliment ps thinking of editing millipede story more kid friendly for publishing! wish me luck
suegillespie on February 23, 2011:
OMG.....you are a very talented lady. I am now enthralled with your sites. I am now a follower! (PS. I am ALSO a teacher....new at "hubbing".....still learning.)
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on January 20, 2011:
nicomp, Good question, many animals have adaptive gills for breathing in and out of water, the horseshoe crab is one example. Thanks for stopping by!
nicomp really from Ohio, USA on January 19, 2011:
How did the little guy go from breathing water to breathing air?
This is a tiny point, but I do want to make it: adding the penny to the fossil photos is a great touch. The scale of fossils is often very difficult to grasp. Thanks for that!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on January 15, 2011:
Yes, the fossil history sometimes drives my spirit into action! Glad we share an interest!
Augustine A Zavala from Texas on January 15, 2011:
Fascinating hub! Fossil history is fascinating. Thanks again for sharing.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on December 21, 2010:
Thank you Damian and Vanocouver Gal! It was my pleasure!
damian0000 on December 21, 2010:
What a really beautifl hub!
If only there were more teachers like you --- there is a lot of love in this work and it is written in such an engaging but still informative way, i loved the pictures as well --- excellent work Fossillady :-)
VancouverGal from Canada on December 21, 2010:
This hub is such a delight!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on December 20, 2010:
What can one say but that I am humbled by your top ten list! Oh, I know, I love you for that!
epigramman on December 20, 2010:
...a hub subject like this deserves a famous epigramman top ten
TOP TEN WORDS TO DESCRIBE YOUR HUB ON THE BRAVE LITTLE MILLIPEDE
4. could delight the child in all of us
3. but also educate the adult mind too
2. this could be the basis for a children's book
1. unique translation of a subject perhaps not known by too many people - and that makes you a creative anomaly!!!!!