Today is an ordinary day. In fact, it is so ordinary that you’ve decided to board your Cybernetics Time Machine Mark III headed for the Miocene epoch. Disembarking from your cozy Mark III den, you realize you’ve landed right in the middle of the ocean. Through the glass bottom of the machine, you see a gigantic fish and realize that it looks very much like a sperm whale. That’s because it is, the Orycterocetus to be exact.1 As the Mark III heads for land, you spot another marine creature. It is important to note, at this time, the interlocking set of outward-jutting teeth found on this seven foot whale. Adventurer, meet the Prosqualodon.2
Consider yourself lucky to have spotted two of the most interesting whales in this epoch, now steer your time-machine-turned-boat to shore. As you near the beach, you see an assortment of animals whose scare-factor range from “no sweat” to “good thing I’m in the Mark III”. You spot a Hemipristis serra and two Carcharhinus which you simply noted down as “shark”. In your notes, you also jot down sightings of a crocodile, Crocodylidae, a crab, Portunus oblongus, and a turtle, Podocnemis.4 Quickly clear the beach to avoid any crocodiles that might be lurking nearby. Walking through a dense forest of Gingko trees, you hear an unfamiliar sound. 5 Directly in front of you, you see a horse with three toes, a small dwarf-like horse covered with a short brown spotted pelt. You are looking now, traveler, at an Archaeohippus blackbergi.5 Don’t panic. It is harmless. Be careful of the low-hanging branches as you continue on your tour. These are the territories of the marsupial lions, especially of the most specialized carnivore to have roamed the Miocene epoch, the Thylacoleo carnifex and its fearsome set of carnassial teeth.6
A Tour of the Barremian
On a sight-seeing mission in the Barremian, a novice time-traveller such as yourself should be very careful. This is one of the most dangerous eras to have visited; dangerous but well worth the risk. Fish around in your pocket for the checklist the time travel agent made for you, Remember, whatever happens, don’t panic.
ü Couperites, Anacostia, Appomattoxia: angiosperms. Make sure to pick a good number of fruit. These make good jam according to the residents of the Barremian period.
ü Prokennalestes abramovi: a small mammal with a skull size of about 35 mm. It isn’t threatening but is a definite must- see in your stop. It is the oldest known eutherian mammal.7
ü Valdoraptor, Acrocanthosaurus. Predatory. Keep away if you want to live.
ü Neovenator: a popular Saurischian that has earned it’s own place in the checklist. 7.5 meters in length, pray it spots an Iguanadon to feast on before it spots you.
ü Carcharodontosaurus: Ever hear of the T-Rex? Well, the Carcharodontosaurus is larger and has large, sharp, knife-like teeth. You are adviced to appreciate it from a distance.
ü Lac des Bois, Canada: one of the best snorkeling spots where you can spot non life-threatening small-sized fish, such as Ichthyodectes, Osmeroides, Enchodus, and Cimolichthys.8
ü Cimolichthys nepaholic: a medium-sized freshwater fish. Avoid at all costs. Cimolichthys is predatory. Think two meter Cretaceous baraccuda.9
ü Cretoxyrhina mantelli: a 6-7.5 meter shark. Pray you never spot this one. It might be the largest shark you could possibly meet in this era.
Sweating it out in the Carboniferous
Deciding no vacation is complete without a tan to sport in front of friends back home, you head to the Lower Carboniferous era 320 million years ago. Stepping out of the Mark III, you decide perhaps a vacation to a place resembling the area around the Dead Sea wasn’t such a good idea. It is hot, humid, and you just keep remembering coal for some odd reason.
The flora, you notice, is largely uniform. You take note of the Lepidodendropsis, Triphyllopteris and Rhacopteris which are numerous and which you will later on realize, after going the rounds across the various continents, are well represented everywhere.10 The swamps you see around you have just recently developed. These are now teeming with new life that you would do best to discover yourself. The first land snails have appeared as well as dragonflies and other insects whose wings are not capable of folding back. It won’t be hard for you to recognize the numerous spiders, millipedes and scorpions swarming about.
Your trip won’t be complete without a visit to Horton Bluff, one of the most popular tourist spots of this era. A quick swim would give you a view of the Letognathus, a predatory lobe-finned fish with tusks.11 You might also be lucky enough to spot an Eryops. Be careful. It’s 6 feet long with strong jaws. If cornered, run to shore. The Eryops is frightening only in the water. On land, its short legs make it a slow opponent. After risking life and limb swimming in Horton Bluff, you can spend the rest of your day collecting trilobites, one of the more famous arthropods during the Carboniferous. Make sure to wash your hands afterwards as some of these live as scavengers or filter feeders.
Last Stop: Paleozoic Era
At the end of your mini-vacation through time, the Paleozoic era will provide you with the leisurely viewing of the environment you have been dreaming of ever since the Miocene epoch. Begin with a scuba diving adventure in Guizhou Province in China. Discover the first lichen-like plants to have evolved, Parafunaria sinensis Yang. Take a good look at the Parafunaria. This may be the only plant you get to see here because the early Paleozoic is mostly desert and barren land. Because the land is uninhabited, the dive you took at Guizho Province will have to continue on if you want to be able to see more of the fauna during the Paleozoic.
Take a quick detour to the zoological hotspot, the Burgess Shale. Observe the different kinds of arthropods teeming in this biodiversity bed. Also take note of the worms, crinoids, and sea cucumbers struggling to stake a claim in the environment. Shelled organisms were many and included Scenella and the brachiopods Lingulella and Diraphora.
Take a few samples of Morania confluens, a type of algae, to take back as souvenirs. Don’t be too quick to leave after collecting your algae. Scan the surroundings for polychaete worms, Burgessoechaeta, Burgessa, and Marella, that usually live around Morania. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a rare type of algae, Marpolia spissa, which will make an even better souvenir. There are also two types of animals that are usually spotted around Marpolia, the Eldonia and Wiwaxia. It is interesting to take note that the two algae and the fauna that accompany them survive in complete isolation of the other system.
The Mark III blares out a warning and you hurriedly head back for home hoping tomorrow will be another ordinary day.