Notes From The Field – July 2013

By Kevin Scott

I remember that day, and recall with delight, as I walked through the desert and took in the sight of the spring desert flowers that followed the rain, giving life and bold color to the spring desert plain. See, spring is my favorite season for herping, the locusts were buzzing and song birds were chirping, the beetles were digging their holes in the sand while the rock lizards lie in the sun as they tanned. Coyotes left evidence that they had been here, but of course they’re always the first to disappear. In search of a creature – no particular kind – just taking my chances on what I might find, I cautiously tip-toed my way through the cactus, an activity in which I have had lots of practice. After the cactus I trudged on ahead, and wandered along an old, dried riverbed.

I stopped in my tracks at the moment I saw (my jaw hanging low with exuberance and awe) the curious creature that caused much confusion, for which kind it was I could draw no conclusion. At first glance I thought it could be some amphibious creature, but it was simply much too hideous. On closer inspection I saw it had scales, some sort of carapace and two lengthy tails. Some of the scutes were partially keeled, and flipping it over is when I revealed that this creature was somewhat obscurely chelonian, but appeared somehow older… silurian, or devonian? Its digits were webbed and its neck rather long, but something was missing, and something seemed wrong. You see, it had gills on the side of its head, right behind frills that were easily spread. But lacking in water, this distant location, could hardly have produced this strange adaptation. No eyes could be seen on the primitive face, not even a remnant or residual trace of an organ deemed worthy of visual perception, for locating food and for predator detection. Small holes were presumably there for olfaction but the quantity thereof evoked an exaction of closer inspection for what they might be, for there weren’t just two, but indeed there were three! Three nostrils, a notion entirely absurd, surely not even biologists have heard of something occurring in such repetition, alas, evolution has brought it to fruition.

The anomalous creature had but seven teeth, with four on the top and then three more beneath, but their shape made it hard to discern what it ate; they were kind of roundish, though more or less straight. They couldn’t be used for herbivorous chewing but the creature was clearly not made for pursuing anything other than immobile prey, perhaps it just grabbed things that came past its way. It seemed quite content to concede submission, as though for defense it had lost its volition, so I sought to expose its purpose ulterior, and subsequently moved to inspect its posterior. The subcaudal scales were smooth and divided, however no insight was thusly provided, though it possessed two sets of quaint hemipenes, the first advantageous trait I had seen.

I’ve read of strange creatures in Carrollian fiction, but nothing like this in scientific depiction. Of all of my lectures and myriad books, I’d seen nothing bearing ridiculous looks like this beast that left but a pale question mark, it was strange as a Jabberwocky, Jub Jub or Snark. It seemed hardly a question of natural history but more of a serious supernatural mystery. For I bet even Darwin’d be slightly confused, and good old Linnaeus’d be likewise bemused in attempts at this queer critter’s classification, a fruitless endeavor with no explanation. Even Lamarck couldn’t have found a prerequisite force to give rise to something so exquisite, quirky, peculiar unusual and odd… but perhaps a creator, a maker… a god?

But I digress, let’s get back to the narrative, because what comes next is especially imperative for everyone reading this to understand, why I left this thing there in the hot desert sand. I thought “if I bring this thing back to society, it would get much attention and then cause great anxiety amongst the paleo-scientific community who’d want to dissect it with carefree impunity.”

However, it just didn’t seem well adjusted to this undisclosed desert but somehow I trusted that if it had come to make it this far, despite that its looks were extremely bizarre, it would keep on surviving, prolong its existence, with a little bit of luck and extravagant persistence.

So, live and let live’s the philosophy I followed, the lump in my throat I painfully swallowed, as I shed a tear and prepared to depart with the creature that won a small place in my heart.

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