The longer I study the more I realize that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. These are bold words considering the weird and fantastic fiction that I enjoy, but true nonetheless. Last week I posted an essay entitled In the Oceans of Insanity on my natural history blog, Lore Deposits, exploring the influence that my exposure to the works of H.P. Lovecraft during my formative years had on the eventual course of my career path. I think that, perhaps, my discovery of Lovecraft in my teens imparted a life-long love of squama, tentacles, and multi-jointed appendages possessed by creatures that dwell within the ocean realm. In short, creatures so alien to our land-dwelling experience as to become the stuff of nightmares.
That being so, I thought it would be fun to begin a weekly series to share some of my favourite 'weird wonders' of the natural world. It is my hope that they might serve as inspiration for strange new creatures to introduce to your games. I don't intend to make any attempt to provide any game stats as I don't want to imprint my interpretations on anyone's imagination. If anyone does make anything of this, or any, of the creatures I describe in forthcoming articles, I'd love to hear about and see what you've come up with.
For the first few posts in the series we're going to travel back more than half a billion years into the past, when multicellular animals were undergoing widespread diversification in what has come to be known as the "Cambrian Explosion."
Often referred to as the 'King of the Cambrian,' Anomalocaris was an active predator and the largest animal to inhabit the Cambrian world, growing up to 0.5 metres long (approx 20 inches).
It swam above the seafloor hunting its prey, propelled by a series of lobes on either side of its body. It had two large appendages at the front of its head that were used to capture prey and transport food to its mouth.
The mouth consisted of a circular jaw that resembles a pineapple ring lined with teeth along the inside edge. The jaw functioned much like a nutcracker, breaking open the exoskeletons of its prey. It is thought to have eaten arthropods, and bite wounds in trilobite fossils have been interpreted as the work of Anomalocaris.
The first fossilized body parts of Anomalocaris were assumed to two different types of creature. The anterior appendages were thought to be shrimp, while the segmented discoid fossils that we now know to be the mouth was originally thought to be a jellyfish. It was, of course, reasonable to assign fossils to recognizable animal groups, but when Anomalocaris was finally reconstructed correctly, based on more complete specimens, it was truly a more bizarre creature than could possibly have been imagined.
The author, viciously assaulted by a life-size replica of Anomalocaris, at the Walcott Quarry in the Burgess Shale of Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada
Anomalocaris, King of the Cambrian