The Bravest Little Millipede
A Brief Explanation
I'd like to share some interesting things about Paleozoic creatures with you based on several samples from my fossil collection, but in a nontraditional way in short story form. As I wrote the story with the purpose to inform and inspire, it transpired into something more meaningful that everyone can determine for themselves. I hope you enjoy it 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 all millipedes. He lived during an amazing era on Earth best known for its explosion of life. The Devonian time period was so full of new life, it has been called the Age of Fish, Age of Forests, Age of Vertebrates and Age of Amphibians; just to name a few. The story begins, if you can imagine, over 400 million years ago. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn from the bravest little millipede.
One day, the bravest little millipede was fed up with the attacks imposed upon him and his species by the many varieties of ancient sea dwellers sharing his beloved habitat. To you and me, his enemies would be fascinating creatures to simply observe. But because of his meager size compared to the rest, to him, they were all beasts. Day after day, the sadness he felt became overwhelming as he observed his millimates being taken down by their foes. Whenever it happened, he was left feeling helpless only able to scamper under the sandy seafloor with the use of his three hundred legs. The most frightening threat came from the clamping claws of the eurypterid sea scorpions. They were the millipedes worst enemy and most ill-tempered. In his mind, it was a cruel twist of nature to be betrayed by a cousin arthropod, creatures like him with segmented bodies and jointed legs.
Even the larger species of arthropod trilobites unjustly preyed upon them. Though most of them were gentle creatures, a few of their species had adapted predator capabilities, like that of raptor birds. They became skilled swimmers obtaining speed and sharp vision. The harmless millipedes were defenseless against those types. All the ancient ocean beings referred to those trilobites as "lens-faces" because of their superior vision. Their eyes possessed multiple lenses which wrapped around their heads so they could find prey or spot predators with surround vision. If a threatening trilobite spotted an unsuspecting millipede, it seldom had ample time to escape. The millipedes were the simplest seafloor dwellers. They spent much of their day milling around busy feeding on decayed matter. They were at the bottom of the food chain and rarely a threat to others. Many of the trilobites occupied the same ocean parallel and competed for food and territory.
Yet another more random threat came from the cephalopods. They possessed large powerful tentacles and the biggest brains of all ocean creatures. First, there were the nautiloid cephalopods such as Orthoceras with their long straight shells. With the use of their muscular tentacles, they could crush the hard exoskeleton shells of most other animals. They could pluck just about anything out from the water world with amazing accuracy. No animal was safe from them so long as it was within their grasp. Later, their cousin ammonites came along. They had adapted a coiled shell and eventually dominated the ancient seas over their close straight shelled relatives. From the little millipede’s perspective, they were all a nasty sort. From a human's perspective, their fossil shells are most intriguing. They possess inner chambers of beautiful patterns and are even worn as jewelry with symbolic meaning.
All the bravest little millipede ever wanted to do was to carry out his role in the marine ecosystem alongside with his millimates. They did a good job of keeping the ocean floors clean. With the arrival of more and more newcomer organisms in the ancient ocean, he believed his kind would soon be extinguished unless something changed.
The bravest little millipede had never known of anything else than his marine world filled with other invertebrate creatures which lack a backbone. That was until the day the vertebrates showed up. The vertebrates were swift and agile, but worst of all, they were hungry for millipedes. Arriving first were the ostracoderm fish with sleek, slippery bodies possessing heavy armored plates layered over their upper torsos. The magnificent placoderms evolved thereafter. They wore interesting patterned, armored plates and a wide variation of lavish fins and spikes for added protection. Not only were they a marvel of nature, they were awesome predators as well. Unlike the ostracoderms, they had adapted jawbones and blades for teeth, some reaching impressive sizes. Dunkleoteus's were the T-Rexes of placoderms in the Devonian seas. They were an ornery bunch and the top predators with the ability to chomp down on any living creature in their time!
The little millipede was beside himself and searched deep inside his soul for a solution to his problem. He consulted with his millimates one by one. He arranged for a millisummit to convene a meeting of the milliminds. They brainstormed and discussed and debated for hours on end 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 the millibuddy system. That was the beginning of millimarriages. 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 day finally arrived for them to venture out from their beloved water world. The wise little millipede chose a location offshore which curved into a cool calm lagoon. It passed beyond the foamy breakwaters of the Rheic Ocean bordering the great continent of Gondwana. The bravest little millipede was the first one to pop out of the water and gaze his eyes upon the Devonian landscape. He took in his first breath of air, adapting the use of his 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 wet his appetite briefly until his eyes were steered higher and higher along the trunk of an 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 he had chosen the right place to start a new life for him and his millimates.
He suddenly snapped out of his daze and focused on his mission to crawl out of the water and onto the shore. He proceeded to lead the millitroop's first steps onto dry land. To their surprise, the ground was quite moist from the hothouse climate which recycled warm moist air on a continual basis and dripped it back to Earth. None of the millitroops knew quite what to expect from this new habitat. They all 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 dominated the forest and provided shade that protected the pioneer millipedes from the heat and intense ultraviolet rays of the sun. Other midsize trees such as Medullosa and Psaronius sealed the shady environment; and ancient lycopod trees hovered near water pools. They had stepped into Earth's first forest thick with frond trees, wispy shrubs, spreading mosses, ferns and spiny herbaceous plants. It provided plenty of decaying nourishment for all the millipedes to eat and eat and eat. The bravest little millipede did just that and grew strong and healthy. The efforts and risks he had taken finally rewarded him and his millimates with the happy life they had so desperately sought.
Then one day, he 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 Archeopteris to get closer to the light. Inch my inch he crept, gripping the coarse wood with his three hundred legs. When he finally reached the top, he never felt so alive. He thought the sky was the color of love. The light source made his heart beat with trepidation. As he looked down and out, the sprawl of the forest canopy reflected the color of his soul as far as his view allowed. He was glad he made the strenuous crawl up the giant tree and came to understand its lure.
Days past, weeks and months; life was good for him and his millimates. There was plenty of oxygen in the air, plenty of nourishment on the ground and the absence of predators was the bonus they all had longed for. Everyday of his life he climbed the giant Archeopteris 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!
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