Relics: Travels in Nature's Time Machine
On any night in early June, if you stand on the right beaches of America’s East Coast, you can travel back in time all the way to the Jurassic. For as you watch, thousands of horseshoe crabs will emerge from the foam and scuttle up the beach to their spawning grounds, as they’ve done, nearly unchanged, for more than 440 million years.
Horseshoe crabs are far from the only contemporary manifestation of Earth’s distant past, and in Relics, world-renowned zoologist and photographer Piotr Naskrecki leads readers on an unbelievable journey through those lingering traces of a lost world. With camera in hand, he travels the globe to create a words-and-pictures portrait of our planet like no other, a time-lapse tour that renders Earth’s colossal age comprehensible, visible in creatures and habitats that have persisted, nearly untouched, for hundreds of millions of years.
Naskrecki begins by defining the concept of a relic—a creature or habitat that, while acted upon by evolution, remains remarkably similar to its earliest manifestations in the fossil record. Then he pulls back the Cambrian curtain to reveal relic after eye-popping relic: katydids, ancient reptiles, horsetail ferns, majestic magnolias, and more, all depicted through stunning photographs and first-person accounts of Naskrecki’s time studying them and watching their interactions in their natural habitats. Then he turns to the habitats themselves, traveling to such remote locations as the Atewa Plateau of Africa, the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and the lush forests of the Guyana Shield of South America—a group of relatively untrammeled ecosystems that are the current end point of staggeringly long, uninterrupted histories that have made them our best entryway to understanding what the prehuman world looked, felt, sounded, and even smelled like.
The stories and images of Earth’s past assembled in Relics are beautiful, breathtaking, and unmooring, plunging the reader into the hitherto incomprehensible reaches of deep time. We emerge changed, astonished by the unbroken skein of life on Earth and attentive to the hidden heritage of our planet’s past that surrounds us.
annoyed tuataras will bite, and 60 RELICS the sensation this produces has been repeatedly described as similar to being gripped by a powerful vise, which will only tighten if one attempts to dislodge it. The rest of the tuatara’s skeleton has a number of characteristics that point to its relatedness to ancient, extinct reptiles, such as the structure of its spine (with so-called amphicoelous vertebrae), or the presence of abdominal ribs, or gastralia, which were found in some dinosaur
clearly visible segmentation of its body, but several groups (crustaceans, millipedes, and armadillos, to name a few) use a very similar tactic, and I was not sure which one MOTHER’S CARE 83 A large, shield-like pronotum protects the head and front legs of the giant blattodean (Blaberus giganteus), which I ran across in the remote, unspoiled rainforests of southern Guyana. Although blattodeans get their information about the world mostly through their senses of smell, taste, and touch, most
how fast they evolve in the Cape but by how rarely they go extinct. Rather than species being replaced by newly evolved ones, there is some indication that the relative climatic stability in the Cape region within the last 4–5 million years might have allowed older species to survive, while new ones kept appearing. In all likelihood, all these factors have played equal roles in the creation of this incredible floral kingdom. We still need to search for the definite answer, but the end result is
they did live in caves! Among the dozen or so animals above us I could see a few adults. They did not seem to be particularly disturbed by our presence but walked away if a beam of light lingered on them for too long. Slowly I crept up to the top of the nearest boulder and scooped up a mature male. What a stunning animal he was. He had tiny, scale-like wings but with well-developed sound-producing structures (so they did sing). His body was slightly smaller than my pinky finger, but with his
larger areas. Novotny and his colleagues argue that for the hundreds or even thousands of species of insects associated with a single plant species, no more than 5 are unique to that plant. If this is true, and it probably is, it still means that New Guinea has at least 125,000 species of insects, based on the estimated 25,000 species of vascular plants that can be found there. And this does not include insects that are not associated with plants, nor does it include Mossy katydids (Mossula)