Walking backwards 400 million years

September 5, 2011 | By | Reply More

Please allow me to tell you about today’s trip to Missouri’s Cuivre River State Park, about 1 1/2 hour drive from St. Louis.  My family and our friends had lunch in the picnic area before setting out on a short hike on a half-dry creek bed.  To the right you’ll see a typical portion of this walk (clicking on these images will give you bigger higher-res versions).   No, we didn’t see any bears or snakes, but it was a beautiful day (high temperature about 70, after a summer filled with 100 degree days) and we saw quite a few small spectacular things.How about this blue moth, for example?  I looked up this article and it really seems to be a moth and not a butterfly.

The water was filled with lots of tiny critters, including minnows, tadpoles, and many types of bugs, including striders, also known as “water bugs, magic bugs, pond skaters, skaters, skimmers, water scooters, water skaters, water skeeters, water skimmers, water skippers, water spiders, or Jesus bugs” (BTW, I don’t care what others say, I love Wikipedia).  Here’s one of those guys (to the left).  I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of them.   On this photo, the water can’t be seen, but these bugs simply skate along the surface.  But it’s not as simple that, actually,  when you zoom in, as I did with the macro feature of my camera (my much-cherished Canon s95), you can see that the water is immensely viscous in relation to light insects and objects, such as this leaf.   In fact, I found a big clump of striders  that shows you just how viscous the water actually is (I’m guessing that this is a mating procedure, but I have no idea).  I didn’t  notice these indentations of the water until I looked at the photo at home (please do click to enlarge):

In case you’re wondering, none of these photos is processed except for cropping and a few that were sharpened just a bit.   Here’s yet another photo that I’d like to share.  I was leaning out to photograph more striders (OK, yes, because I couldn’t find any bears or snakes), and I enjoyed this cool silhouette effect–that’s me reaching out to take the photos, and where ever the light is blocked, you can easily see down into the water.

We saw quite a few crawfish today, including this “big” buy (about one inch long) (he was in a couple inches of water, though you can’t see the water in this photo).

Such an ancient looking creature, right?  And no doubt that crawfish are related to lobsters–they are both crustaceans. And they are my cousins too, of course.  All living things are, at a minimum, my cousins.

Now speaking of old relatives, my 13-year old daughter and her good friend starting picking up rocks and pointing out the fossils.  I hadn’t noticed until they pointed.  We ended up gathering quite a few rocks, and they were loaded with fossils–in fact, every 50th rock was covered with fossils.

After getting home, I pulled out a general fossil book which seems to suggest that these might be fossils from the Ordovician Period of our planet, making these creatures more than 400 million years old.   It is well established that Missouri contains many such ancient fossils from that period and see here.  They were preserved while the entire Midwest was covered with a shallow ocean.   Viewing these fossils functioned as a time machine for us, then.  It allowed us to go back to a time when dinosaurs had not yet walked on Earth.  They took us back almost to the Cambrian period. This was a spectacular feeling for me, no doubt heightened by the fact that I spend entirely too much time behind computer keyboards and not enough time interacting with nature.

It also occurred to me that some of these fossils, which might be sponges, could be my direct ancestors. Wouldn’t that be incredible if I had nonchalantly picked up a fossil of my great great great great . . . grandpa?

As I walked along with my kids, not knowing enough to intelligently comment on many of the things we saw, it occurred to me that maybe it’s time to learn more about nature.  After getting back home, I logged onto Amazon to order a used book on Missouri fossils, so that I’ll know more next time.   In the meantime, I’m celebrating a big day filled with family and friends, as well as lots of spectacular little living and formerly-living things.


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Category: Evolution, Human animals, nature, photography

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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