Giant Locomotive Arthropod: Arthropleura

I decided to take a break from modern animals for a while and give something of a crash course on prehistoric creatures, other than the ones we all know about, dinosaurs and mammoths and whatnot.  So I think to myself, “What’s the best way to launch a series on prehistoric beasts?” and the answer comes to me, we start off with a ten-foot long millipede.


Here it is, bursting from the primordial ooze like any eldritch beast worth its weight in horror.

I suppose the first question is “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY?”  The easy answer to that is that there is no god.  A more scientific answer is that the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere during the Carboniferous period when these monsters lived was dramatically higher than what it is today, 35% as opposed to the 21% of our atmosphere that is made up of oxygen nowadays.  The growth of arthropods is directly linked to how much oxygen they can get into their bodies (arthropods not being able to simply breathe in and out like we can, this process is more complex) and it was only the massive amounts of oxygen in the Carboniferous that allowed these things, the largest land-dwelling invertebrates ever, to exist at all, alongside giant spiders and eagle-sized dragonflies.


Here it is again with Suicidal Size-Comparison Alan. Hello, Alan!

I suppose I should stop taunting you with implications of flesh-rending horror, arthropleura ate detritus, all the rotting and decomposing bits of plants and animals that get pounded into the topsoil.  Though it was certainly large enough so that an adult arthropleura would have no natural predators, these things were borderline harmless (presumably) as they munched away on rotten mulch in their forest homes.  An extra fun fact is that the forests of the Carboniferous weren’t made up of trees, they hadn’t evolved yet, but instead were made up of giant ferns.

Arthropods would never again reach their Carboniferous heyday after the Permian period started, the atmosphere simply wasn’t as saturated with oxygen, which may just be a good thing.  Apart from the fact that “dropped dead from fear of seeing Labrador-sized pill bug” would be a fairly common diagnosis in the mortuary, this oxygen-heavy atmosphere was highly explosive.  Fire needs oxygen, and it had all the O2 it could ever want in the Carboniferous period.

P.S.–about the odd title, it was inspired by the Legend of Zelda series, where all the so-called “boss” enemies have some sort of title before their name.



One thought on “Giant Locomotive Arthropod: Arthropleura

  1. You might want to check out Jerry Coyne’s website for Sunday, March 29th. He has a post about frogs that can change their shape in a few minutes. He speculates that we may be missing information on lots of animals that can do the same thing because we have only one sample of many rare animals. We could have grabbed them when they were in only one of many shapes they might be able to take. Shape shifting frogs?!!! Now this is weird.

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