Hallucigenia


The Sedgwick Museum, in Cambridge, is a jewel among museums.  I had heard a lot about it but had not actually made it there until one Saturday a couple of years ago.  My partner was going to see a film that didn’t appeal to me at the multiplex near Hills Road (it wasn't showing in our own fair city), so I stayed in town - we later swapped tales of our afternoon and the film/museum specimens.

The Sedgwick has a fascinating collection of soft-bodied organisms from the Burgess Shale in the Rocky Mountains in Canada – The sediments date back to the Cambrian Period, some 505 million years ago.  Truly amazing and peculiar creatures like Anomalocaris and Opabinia were preserved in them.  Another bizarre creature (but smaller at less than 4 cm long) from the time was Hallucigenia, so named by Simon Conway-Morris when he was reviewing some of the Burgess Shale fossils because it looked like something you had to be hallucinating to see!!  It was originally described as walking on the seabed on non-jointed, spiky legs and having tubes poking out of its back into the water column.  Further research has literally turned the creature upside down, with the ‘tubes’ now being understood as legs and the spiky appendages being... spikes.  They are now classed as stem onychophorans – relatives of modern velvet worms.  I can vividly imagine Hallucigenia walking on a modern seabed and I could, at a pinch, imagine Anomalocarids in the same scenario, but Opabinia was just too weird for words.

You can easily see where the Burgess Shale collection in the museum is – you see this wonderful model of Hallucigenia hanging from the ceiling.  I just loved it.  What I don’t know is who made it (and the trilobite further along the gallery); I must find out!

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