Yet more Sunday fun from Salt Lake Tribune. The March 30, 1913 issue brings us a horrible vision of our future:
Yet more Sunday fun from Salt Lake Tribune. The March 30, 1913 issue brings us a horrible vision of our future:
In 1912, Royal Navy Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the Terra Nova Expedition in an ill-fated attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. After reaching the Pole and learning they were beaten by Norwegians, his team's failed return trip ended with the death of Scott and his men.
Historians have long debated what could have been done differently to prevent that tragedy, and what still could be done to keep such a tragedy from repeating on future expeditions. In 1913, a Swiss inventor proposed a solution to the problem.
Naturally, it involved giant mechanical mosquitoes:
Picture Diagram Illustrating the Inventor's Idea of the Development of the Luchy Machine, Drawn from Sketches of the Small Working Model. The Essential Points of the Invention Can Be Grasped Easily by Study of the Carefully Worked Out Illustration. The Artist Has Shown the Machine at Work in the Antarctic, Boring Through the Ice Cap Down into the Internal Fires of the Earth. While the Inventor Has Suggested the Possibility of Tapping Earth's Heat in This Way, Other Scientists Believe Such a Development Highly Improbable. Not Only Would the Tools Have to Be of Impossible Length and Size, but It Would Not Be Possible to Generate Enough Power to Run Them. Besides, the Internal Fires, When Struck, Would Destroy the Tools Instantly. The Future of the Invention Lies, It Is Believed, in Smaller Machines Which Are Able to Carry Men into Places Inaccessible to Other Means of Conveyance and at the Same Time to Provide Shelter.
The above illustration by Raymond Perry is from an article in the March 9, 1913 Sunday Magazine section of the Salt Lake Tribune (again) about multistory, Diesel-powered, mosquitoform vehicles -- "Mechasquitoes", if you will -- proposed by Dr. Gustav Luchy for mining resources in hostile climates, patrolling desert and tropical colonies, and as engines of war.
This proto-Dieselpunk delight has too much tiny, Richard Scarry-esque detail -- such as the "sheath containing fully equipped ocean liner"! -- to display inside my blog layout, so either see the original scanned page or the cleaned-up version I made. I've transcribed the full article below with added links to interesting background info:
The above is an artist's rendition of the eye of Mars. It's not a metaphorical depiction. What you see is exactly what the theory claimed: (from the caption) "A vast eye, upon a tenuous, flexible, transparent neck raises itself high above the surface of Mars and can watch the growth of its vegetable body upon any part of the surface." Its "vegetable body" is a Mars-hugging super-organism of intelligent vegetable life that creeps along the cracks left in the drying Martian surface (Lowell's erstwhile "canals").
The Martian Eye theory was put forward as an explanation for the shifting white patches just perceptible to telescopes, which less paranoid minds ascribed to mere seasonal snow.
Dougal Dixon's book The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution (1988) imagines what life would look like if the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event had not happened and non-avian dinosaurs had continued evolving over the last 65 million years.
Besides the eponymous new dinosaurs, one of his hypothetical creatures inhabiting the Australasian Realm is the coconut grab (Nuctoceras litureperus), a type of tree-climbing ammonite:
The coconut grab is an unusual ammonite in that it can spend much of its time out of the water crawling about on land. On many of the tropical islands of the ocean it can crawl up the beach and eat coconuts, and even climb trees to find the nuts when there are none available lying in the sand or washed up on the shore.
It's preyed upon by a flightless, tree-climbing pterosaur called a shorerunner.
Ponto Lake in Minnesota is home to possibly the last remaining pontosaur (specifically Pontosaurus minnesotae) in all of Cass County. This mosasauroid's ancestors presumably arrived in Minnesota in the late Cretaceous when the area was reachable by the Western Interior Sea (for more on this mosasaur-dominated environment, see The Oceans of Kansas).
Kijimuna (キジムナー) are a species of arboreal island hominoids native to Okinawa. Their diminutive size compared to Sasquatch, Yeti, etc. is probably a result of insular dwarfism and their partial baldness a likely adaptation to the subtropical climate. They live mostly in banyan trees, but will venture onto the ground to go fishing or interact with Humans. Human-Kijimuna relations have been strained in the past due to arson and flatulence. Human Okinawans often accuse Kijimuna of mischievousness, but this is probably Human chauvinism; we rarely get to hear the Kijimuna viewpoint in Okinawan media. (For more on Kijimuna, see Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai's Kijimuna page or the Japanese Wikipedia.)
But what's the deal with the octopus? In his blog post about his painting, Meyer partially explains:
One final fact of note about kijimuna — they loathe octopuses! I am so far unable to discover why they hate them so much, but the lowly octopus is the one thing they cannot stand. Kijimuna will avoid them at all costs, so keeping octopuses around is a fairly foolproof way for humans to avoid potential kijimuna-related troubles.
I think Meyer has inadvertently shown in his painting the reason for octopusophobia among Kijimuna: a dispute over territory and resources.
As I have noted before (see: "The Ara-Eaters: Tree Octopuses Of Polynesia" and "Nicharongorong: Tree Octopuses of Micronesia"), octopuses in the South Pacific are drawn to trees, and many have adopted arboreal or semi-arboreal lifestyles. On Okinawa, this arboreal niche has already been occupied by the Kijimuna, denying octopuses there the "green embrace" they so desire.
Octopuses are persistent and determined creatures. They would simply not abide not being able to tentaculate through the banyans, nibbling on the figs. (Athenæus in his Deipnosophistae relates that besides olive trees Mediterranean octopuses [polypus] "have also been discovered clinging to such fig-trees as grow near the seashore, and eating the figs, as Clearchus tells us, in his treatise on those Animals which live in the Water." [Source.] Presumably Pacific octopuses would likewise be fond of banyan figs.) Octopuses are also greedy (a trait noted in Japanese culture -- see: Kure Kure Takora), so sharing the trees is not an option.
Kijimuna, hanging as they are in the way of the octopuses' sense of Arboreal Manifest Destiny, would surely attract octopodous belligerence. It's not unreasonable to assume that centuries, perhaps millennia, of stealthy attacks and attempted incursions into their trees would have instilled in the Kijimuna a healthy, and justified, paranoia about octopuses.
A while back I posted a book excerpt explaining how to defend oneself against a charging land octopus. It advised throttling them at the neck. But it turns out there's a more effective, and less violent, method to deal with belligerent octopuses: hypnotism.
Fig. 1: The proper Danilewskian method for
hypnotizing small to medium sized octopuses.
In his essay, "The Extinction of Man", from the collection Certain Personal Matters (1897), H. G. Wells contemplates the necessary transience of Humanity in the Earth's spotlight and who will replace us when our 15-millenia are up, noting that we would be doomed should the cephalopods make a concerted effort:
Then, again, the order of the Cephalopods, to which belong the cuttle-fish and the octopus (sacred to Victor Hugo), may be, for all we can say to the contrary, an order with a future. Their kindred, the Gastropods, have, in the case of the snail and slug, learnt the trick of air-breathing. And not improbably there are even now genera of this order that have escaped the naturalist, or even well-known genera whose possibilities in growth and dietary are still unknown. Suppose some day a specimen of a new species is caught off the coast of Kent. It excites remark at a Royal Society soirée, engenders a Science Note or so, " A Huge Octopus!" and in the next year or so three or four other specimens come to hand, and the thing becomes familiar. "Probably a new and larger variety of Octopus so-and-so, hitherto supposed to be tropical," says Professor Gargoyle, and thinks he has disposed of it. Then conceive some mysterious boating accidents and deaths while bathing. A large animal of this kind coming into a region of frequent wrecks might so easily acquire a preferential taste for human nutriment, just as the Colorado beetle acquired a new taste for the common potato and gave up its old food-plants some years ago. Then perhaps a school or pack or flock of Octopus gigas would be found busy picking the sailors off a stranded ship, and then in the course of a few score years it might begin to stroll up the beaches and batten on excursionists. Soon it would be a common feature of the watering-places -- possibly at last commoner than excursionists. Suppose such a creature were to appear -- and it is, we repeat, a possibility, if perhaps a remote one -- how could it be fought against? Something might be done by torpedoes; but, so far as our past knowledge goes, man has no means of seriously diminishing the numbers of any animal of the most rudimentary intelligence that made its fastness in the sea.
This passage was probably the inspiration for the "Umbrella Beasts" of Lester & Pratt's "The Octopus Cycle", especially since their nature-finds-a-way-via-killer-whales solution to Humanity's octopus problem seemed a bit cribbed from the ending of Wells' War of the Worlds.
As V. A. Firsoff speculated, land octopuses, especially those that adapt to the challenging environment of the trees -- as opposed to merely hanging around beaches, snacking on sunbathers as Wells imagines -- may indeed have a bright future, perhaps even taking their place among the spacefaring species of the Cosmos. If Wells is right about the danger of them supplanting us, it would be wise to stay in their good graces. Erecting monuments in their honor couldn't hurt.
My post on the tree octopuses of Polynesia contains a bit of sloppy geography; Palau and the Caroline Islands are actually in Micronesia, not Polynesia (I got the Cook Islands right, though). I'll rectify that slight against the good people and cephalopods of Micronesia with this post focusing on Micronesian tree octopuses.
Non-aquatic cephalopods are notoriously under-represented, if not completely absent, in the fossil record since they are mostly composed of soft-tissue and, unlike their aquatic counterparts, live in environments without a constant rain of fine sediment and ubiquitous muddy ground necessary for soft-tissue fossilization.
Given this explanation for a lack of fossil evidence, it cannot be ruled out that the scenario depicted above -- predation by giant octopuses newly colonizing an above-water world unprepared for their arrival -- is what really doomed the dinosaurs to extinction. Only those dinosaurs that were able to rise above the now-deadly trees -- birds -- survived the transition to a post-tree-octopus environment.
© 2004-2017 Lyle Zapato & ZPi
unless otherwise noted or implied.