Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ewwwwwww

If you lived around 300 million years ago, turns out you would have needed a really, really, really big can of Raid:

Today, you can squish the tiny bugs, but 300 million years ago, 8-foot-long millipedes were in control of the landscape, and humans weren't even a gleam in evolution's eye.

New Mexico is now a world record holder of such "exquisitely grotesque creatures," as one worker at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science calls them. Evidence of the largest arthropleura - its technical name - ever found was recovered by the museum on Friday.

"In today's world, you couldn't have a bug this big," said Spencer Lucas, paleontology curator at the museum. "This is basically the Tyrannosaurus of the Pennsylvanian period, millions of years before dinosaurs evolved. If you took a time machine back, you'd definitely want to check your sleeping bag for these suckers before getting in."

The Pennsylvanian time period lasted from 325 to 280 million years ago.

The museum has not found the bug itself. What it did find in a remote canyon near EspaƱola were the fossilized tracks of such a creature - which looks like a 3-by-8 speed bump with flat wings holding hundreds of nasty, ribbed, horseshoe-shaped feet.

"This is a very spectacular thing," said Adrian Hunt, director of the museum, who went out in the field with the team to recover it. "Think of it as a much bigger cross between a millipede and a centipede. It probably lived in swampy forest debris. Something like this has never been found before in the Western United States."

Yuck! Looking at the bright side, the oxygen content of Earth's atmosphere is now too low to support such wackily grotesque insects, horror films notwithstanding.

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