Friday, October 21, 2011

Kraken of the deep!

I read a week or so ago about a new hypothesis (getting a mixed reception) that, 200 million years ago, giant krakens, up to a hundred feet long, lurked in the deep and grabbed passing icthyosaurs to use as playthings and snacks. Bear in mind that icthyosaurs were large, fast, and predatory:

Wikimedia Commons

So this had to have been a spectacular monster, at least twice as big as the biggest known cephalopods. But the thing is, squidish things are soft; they don't fossilise well. So the evidence is scanty. Or should I say the indicators. Basically, a paleontologist called Mark McMenamin (try saying that three times at speed) took a look at a weirdly organised jumble of marine fossils and decided a good explanation could be a giant kraken behaving like its smaller, extant cousin, the octopus.

Here in Seattle, in the aquarium, Giant Pacific Octopuses have been known to kill sharks. (Bad octopus!) Perhaps they're also playful art collectors:

Some of the most intelligent creatures in today's oceans, says McMenamin, are cephalopods -- particularly octopuses and squid. In large aquariums, octopuses are known to collect unusual objects and even play with them. McMenamin imagines that during the Triassic period, his proposed kraken would do battle with ichthyosaurs. When it was victorious, the kraken would drag the ichthyosaur's corpse back to its den for a feast.

In McMenamin's purported midden, the kraken would play with the bones of the unfortunate ichthyosaurs, perhaps even arranging them into deliberate patterns. The double lines of disc-shaped vertebrae in the death assemblage closely mimic the arrangement of suckers on a cephalopod's tentacles -- which could make the patterns seen in the ichthyosaur fossils the world's oldest self-portrait, McMenamin suggests. (Scientific American)

I don't have a picture of a hundred-foot kraken, but I can show you a picture I took today that brought all this to mind:

It's from a friend's garden, freshly pulled today. It's now washed and safely in the fridge. I just hope it's not throttling the milk.

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