Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms
March 25, 2019 5:12 PM - by Richard Fortey - Subscribe

From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1 comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved; the history of life on earth is far older—and odder—than many of us realize.

Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals continue to mark seminal events in geological time. From a moonlit beach in Delaware, where the hardy horseshoe crab shuffles its way to a frenzy of mass mating just as it did 450 million years ago, to the dense rainforests of New Zealand, where the elusive, unprepossessing velvet worm has burrowed deep into rotting timber since before the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, to a stretch of Australian coastline with stromatolite formations that bear witness to the Precambrian dawn, the existence of these survivors offers us a tantalizing glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history. These are not “living fossils” but rather a handful of tenacious creatures of days long gone.

Written in buoyant, sparkling prose, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a marvelously captivating exploration of the world’s old-timers combining the very best of science writing with an explorer’s sense of adventure and wonder.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (1 comment total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The best way I can describe Fortey is: if Dawkins was a paleontologist and not a dick. In fact there is a throwaway line in one of the chapters where Fortey dunks on Dawkins in a gentle British manner, which 200 years ago surely would have led to pistols at dawn. The book is excellent, dense but readable, and takes you all over the world in search of "living fossils". The name of course is a little misleading, there is no such thing, but quite a few extant creatures are rare and almost unchanged in physical form from very early in earth's history, and Fortey travels all over the world to get a glimpse of these creatures and explain their descent. Come for the horseshoe crabs, stay for the stromatolites!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:16 PM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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