Kathi writes about fossils and other earthly subjects, plus the natural fauna of Michigan, features in her community, poetry, and more.
Much has been written and portrayed about dinosaurs and the fury of T-Rex in popular culture, but are you aware there were giant creatures dominating Earth's oceans long before the dino-era that ended 65 million years ago? Enjoy the following journey of giants and strange creatures through the timetables beginning with the Cambrian Period from 542 million years ago and ending 488 mya. Incidentally, according to scientists, the Cambrian is the first period in earth's history representing the arrival of complex organisms.
Anomalocaris dominated the Cambrian seas for tens of millions of years. It grew to only two feet (60 cm) long, which doesn’t seem very big by today’s standards, but in relation to every other organism during the Cambrian, it was a giant.
Interesting history of its stalled scientific discovery: A segment fossil of Anomalocaris canadensis was first discovered in the Canadian Rockies in 1892, but it wasn't until 1981 that a major breakthrough about its identity occurred; and that was further refined in 1996. This one hundred year history of inaccurate theories is but one example of the difficulty identifying fossil remains of Cambrian organisms having no apparent living descendants. Anomalocaris and other genera have since been discovered at various Cambrian fossil locations around the world, including the famous Burgess Shale site in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the USA, China, and Australia.
Anomalocaris with its large eyes, impaling front spines and strong swimming lobes probably could overtake any prey during its lifespan, including trilobites. Except, some scientists argue that its pineapple-ring mouth did not have hard parts necessary to crush the tough outer shells of trilobites. Much still remains to be clarified about their anatomy and habits. Scientists believe it swam with an "S" method of locomotion, undulating up and down the length of its body.
Watch the video below to observe its unique movement in the water.
Orthocone (Straight Shell Giant Cephalopod Nautiloid)
The T-Rex of the following time period, the Ordovician, beginning 490 mya to 443 mya, was a cephalopod nautiloid creature related to squids and octopuses known as the Giant Orthocone. The massive creature's living tissue was contained mostly at one end of a very long conical shell which could reach 36 feet (11 meters) in length. Its inner shell contained chambers that filled with water and likewise emptied in order to jet propel itself forward and to maneuver up and down through the ocean strata. The inner chambers also contained gases for buoyancy. It seized its prey using meter long (three feet) muscular tentacles and a beak-like mouth in order to rip apart its victims. It fed upon fish and its arch enemy, sea scorpions.
Did you know fossils of straight-shelled cephalopod nautiloids have been quarried by Europeans for many years and adorn floors, stairs, jewelry, gravestones and art pieces with their durable and desirable beauty?
Eurypterid Sea Scorpions
The illustration above is a reconstruction of Pentecopterus, the earliest known eurypterid.
Eurypterids, simply put, were scorpions of the sea, otherwise known as sea scorpions. They were the largest known arthropods that ever lived. The fossils of sea scorpions have been found all over the world. The U.S. state of New York has unearthed an especially large number of this predatory animal. Eurypterids had survived a long history beginning with the Ordovician Period extending into the Permian Period from about 460 million-years-ago to 248 mya. That's over a 200 million year history!
Sea scorpions walked on six legs, the back two of which were flattened like paddles. They were normally marine sea-floor dwellers, and interestingly, they could also live in freshwater. Sea scorpions preyed upon fish, trilobites and other animals living near the seabed. They possessed strong defenses such as sharp spines, crushing claws and armored plating. Their has been disagreement among scientists whether some of the species possessed stingers. The giant straight-shelled nautiloids were the eurypterid's notorious arch enemies.
Megalograptus was one of the earlier large species of eurypterids measuring 4 feet (1.2 meters) long, not including its front pincher claws. However, the most common species of eurypterids typically measured only 8 inches (20 cm) long.
Jaekelopterus was a later species of sea scorpions emerging during the Devonian Period around 390 mya, reaching over 8 feet (2 meters) or more in length. Try to imagine a scorpion about the size of a kayak! Terrifying! The tables were turned with their arch enemies, when the cephalopod nautiloids declined in size during the Devonian time slot from their giant Ordovician Period predecessors. As a result, eurypterids like Jaekelopterus gained the upper hand using their powerful claws to clamp down and crush the linear shells of smaller nautiloids.
During the Devonian Period around 416 mya until about 360 mya, vertebrates had greatly arisen on the scene. A highly evolved class of fish called "placoderms", possessing advanced characteristics stemming from their predecessor "ostracoderms", dominated the ancient seas. For protection, both classes of fish possessed armored plates covering their head and upper torso regions. They looked very unusual compared to modern-day fish. The main advancement with placoderms was the development of a jawbone and paired fins. Those two significant adaptations provided them the necessary speed and power to become fearsome predators, aggressively chasing prey rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity. Ostracoderms were eventually overrun into extinction unable to compete with their cousin placoderms.
Dunkleosteus placoderm was the T-Rex of the Devonian time-period, terrorizing the ancient seas. He measured 10 meters (33 feet) and weighed almost 4 tons. Instead of teeth, Dunkleosteus possessed two pairs of impaling sharp boney blades. Dunkleosteus could open its mouth in 1/50th of a second, which would have caused a powerful suction that pulled prey into its mouth, a food-capturing ability reinvented by many of the most advanced fishes today. The placoderm fish could then bite down with a pressure of up to 8,000 pounds per square inch (55 mph), placing it in the league of T-Rex and modern crocodiles! There wasn’t anything the great placoderm didn’t or couldn’t eat, including its own kind.
In recent decades, Dunkleosteus has finally achieved the recognition it deserves as a super predator. There are a large number of its fossil specimens on display which have been found in North America, Poland, Belgium and Morocco.
Terataspis grandis, shown above whose name means “great monster shield” was a large spiny trilobite. Through millions of years of evolution, by the middle of the Devonian Period around 400 mya, trilobites low on the food chain such as Terataspis grandis, had evolved some serious defenses to survive predators. Like most trilobites, Terataspis grandis was a bottom feeder, scavenging anything it could find, but it also was an opportunistic predator preying on burrowing animals such as mollusks, worms and smaller arthropods. It reached about 2 feet (60cm) in length, which in relation to most other trilobites, was enormous.
All trilobites have the distinction of possessing a segmented body, multiple jointed limbs and an armored outer shell, placing them in the category of arthropods related to insects and crustaceans. Trilobite means three lobes in Greek, from tri and lobos, named for its three major lengthwise sections.
Isotelus, rex is the largest trilobite ever found going back in the time scale from the Ordovician Period which began 490 mya. It reached 28 inches (71 cm) in length. Many of Isotelus, rex fossils have been discovered in the great state of Ohio where it is the proud state fossil.
Bizarre Prehistoric Sharks
Beginning in the late Devonian Period and into the early Carboniferous Period (345 to 300 mya) sharks were diversifying so much that scientists have labeled it the “Golden Age of Sharks”. The placoderms were dying out, only lasting a 50 million year history compared to sharks 400 million year history. With the decline of placoderms, environmental niches allowed sharks to fill in, and as a result they assumed a wide variety of bizarre shapes. From this stage of evolution, they had become the top predators of the oceans.
Stethacanthus shark may have grown to 11 feet (3.3 meters) long, but sources differ referring much smaller. One thing undisputed is the strange anvil-like growth protruding from its back that was completely overlaid with sharp brush-like spikes. The same type of spikes also covered the top of its head. There’s been much speculation about the use of these spikes. One theory proposes it may have played a role in courtship, while another proposes it simply may have made the creature look more frightening.
Another strange shark emerging during the period was Helicoprion. Not much is truly known about this shark, but the pattern of its teeth is instantly recognizable. They formed a whorl semi-circle arrangement protruding out of its mouth. Unlike modern sharks, the teeth did not fall away at the front resulting in the rotated bizarre spiral which mystifies modern science.
The largest genus of sharks in the bizarre top-predator group was Edestus giganteous which lived during the latter part of the Carboniferous Period around 325 mya. He reached up to 20 feet (6 meters) long weighing up to 2 tons. That's comparable to the largest great white sharks of today. Comparable to its relative, Helicoprion, Edestus giganteus's teeth formed a strange curved shape, and it also did not shed its teeth. It must have been very intimidating to other creatures looking as if it possessed saw blades for a mouth.
Giant Cephalopod Ammonites
Ammonites were closely related to the straight-shelled cephalopod nautiloids only they had adapted a coiled shell which allowed them more freedom of mobility. They even used the same jet propulsion mode of movement. Their numbers greatly grew beginning as early as the Devonian and peaked some 300 million years later during the Cretaceous Period (144 - 65 mya). Consecutively, the straight-shell forms greatly declined, unable to compete with the more mobile ammonite nautiloids.
The ammonites were so successful and numerous with 30 to 40 thousand species assumed, that their remains are now excellent index fossils for scientists to date rock layers and other organisms within the same strata.
Shown above, Parapuzosia seppenradesis from the Cretaceous Period (145 to 66 mya) was unearthed in Germany and measured 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter. The biggest forms have been found in later rocks of the upper Jurassic Period from around (180 -145 mya) such as Titanites sp, shown below.
The ammonite shown in the photo with the lady was discovered 60 years ago on the side of a mountain in British Columbia. It is not yet scientifically recognized until it can be collected and turned over to an authoritative institution. It is assumed to be Titanites sp. and is being evaluated by a company to collect it. The fossil measures 6.7 feet (2 meter) in diameter.
The super successful ammonites experienced the same fatal fate 65 million years ago along with the dinosaurs. Their close relative, the nautilus, often referred to as a living fossil, is the lone survivor among nautiloids.
© 2011 Kathi Mirto
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on November 27, 2017:
Wow, that would be so exciting to discover in your own back yard!
Phil Buckle on November 26, 2017:
We live in Waynesville, Ohio, we have an abundance of fossils in our area. We built a pond several years ago, it was so interesting watching the dozer do its work. Little by little he would uncover things no human has ever seen. He had to remove several layers of rock, after he uncovered one layer and removed it there was a layer of sand. It was a foot or so think, there were horn coral everywhere, if there was one there was ten thousand, all perfect.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on November 11, 2013:
A great perspective you have gained now that you are older! Thank you for your wonderful comment! Kathi :O)
newenglandsun on November 09, 2013:
I remember in elementary school, I would always watch dinosaur shows and read dinosaur books. I loved dinosaurs. Of course, being raised in a Christian family, all I knew at that point was YECism and dinosaurs and wasn't sure how God got along with them.
Well, no longer a YECist now and actually would say I have a stronger fascination with both God and dinosaurs and evolution equally now. Even though my actual specialties are history and religion.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on October 27, 2013:
Hello Newenglandsun . . . (btw, love that name) To answer your question the sea scorpions were not true scorpions and are more closely related to arachnids than lobsters and belong to the family of arthropods for their jointed limbs and segmented bodies. No, I am not a paleontologist . . . just have a fascination I guess! Thanks for stopping by, Kathi
newenglandsun on October 26, 2013:
My favorite is Ambolocetus. Early whale ancestor.
Were the sea scorpions ancestors of lobsters, modern scorpions, or both?
Are you a paleontologist?
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on April 04, 2013:
Hi p. sorry so late to respond as I'm trying to balance a new job and all. So glad you found the information here amazing which it truly is. I feel the angels you're sending and will try to catch up soon, their help will be needed, tee hee!
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 22, 2013:
Wow, this was amazing. I know for sure that an orthocone would have been the one I found most startling. What an interesting creature.
I learned so much here. Thanks for sharing. Sending Angels your way this morning :) ps
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on January 10, 2013:
Hello Pamela, I do believe there's a difference between following an ideology exactly according to some authority and spirituality where it's okay to have original thoughts. Seems that you have found a way to reconcile the Genesis theory and your own theories and that is what spirituality can offer us for our own sense of peace in this life! Right on! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for your support! Kathi :O)
Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on January 08, 2013:
WOW! I can hardly believe the amount of information you have put together here on this huge topic. You researched it so well. Or maybe you have retained a goodly portion of this information from years of studying it. I am of the open-minded opinion that all of these creatures once lived and yet I also believe the scriptures in Genesis. Science and truth go hand in hand. It's just that we humans have very limited information. We don't know the whole picture yet. But when we study the book of Genesis we find that the earth was placed in this solar system. Where God created it and how it evolved through the eons of time before we learned of it in this solar system -- and what fantastic creatures walked upon it before it was placed in this solar system -- are not known by us. I certainly didn't come up with this theory myself. Greater minds have mulled it and written upon the subject.
Great hub, Fossillady. Voting up and awesome.
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on October 13, 2012:
My pleasure Fossillady. Dinosaurs have always had the lion's share (or T rex's share?) of the publicity, and yet so many extraordinary creatures existed before and since the dinosaurs. So it was an easy decision to include your hub in my review because it's undoubtably the best hub I have seen on the subject of the earliest life forms. Best wishes. Alun.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on October 13, 2012:
Hello Greensleeves, Nice of you to include my hub on you top list. It's also nice to have someone appreciate the prehistoric creatures before dinosaurs. I'm glad I checked into my hub today as I have been too busy lately. Looking forward to the day I can come back more often. Will check out one of your hubs. Fossillady p.s. okay with me to include one of my photos in your hub
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on July 30, 2012:
Nice to see this page Fossillady. So few hubs seem to cover life before the dinosaurs and this one gives the best overview of the many extraordinary creatures from this era. The photos and drawings are good and illustrate well all the species covered. All this and videos too. Voted up accordingly.
Because the hub provides a much needed coverage of little known creatures, I would like to review and promote this as one of ten 'prehistoric creatures' hubs which I will be publishing very shortly. I will want to incorporate just one image from the hub to effectively show what the hub is all about. Hope this is OK?
An example of one of my already published reviews is at https://hubpages.com/education/NativeAmericans-Hub...
Didge from Southern England on May 22, 2012:
Excellent hub, Fossillady!
carolinemoon on September 03, 2011:
Wow! I am so much amazed with these gigantic creatures. They are all gorgeous and magnificent. Thanks for sharing this great article, Fossillady.
Eiddwen from Wales on July 27, 2011:
Wow how interesting was this one !!!!
I have a great interest in this subject and all my children had a teacher who taught them so much on projects about Dinosaurs. I used to love helping them and thank you for sharing this one.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on June 22, 2011:
Hello Micky! Thank you so much dear! It truly is a wild world, both today and yesteryear!
Micky Dee on June 22, 2011:
Nicely done. There are so many creatures we can't see - so many too small to see. It's a wild world! Great job!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on May 10, 2011:
Thank you Tritrain, Scary indeed! I like your profile photo, is that your dog? Perfect timing whoever shot it...lol
And Drewson from United States on May 10, 2011:
Boy, that would have been a scary time to live. But fascinating!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on May 03, 2011:
Hello Granny's House, I like what you said on your profile page about family's and they are your friends now so spend time with them and cook teach them manners! I thank you for you nice compliment!
Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on May 03, 2011:
Loved this. I always like to learn something new and the photos made it even better.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on April 26, 2011:
Your welcome Katie, I'm glad you liked it, they are pretty cool!
Katie McMurray from Ohio on April 26, 2011:
WOW now that's a lot of paleozoic giants and weird creatures indeed. It's amazing what nature can do. Thank you for the interesting education on weird creatures. :) Katie
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on April 05, 2011:
Wow, Thank you Dablufox, great compliment! I'm glad you enjoyed it and really appreciate you stopping by! It was fun putting it together too!
dablufox from Australia on April 04, 2011:
This is one jewel of a hub! I love natural history and wildlife documentaries from national geographic and PBS and I found this Hub extremely interesting and entertaining. I'm sure you would make a great documentary presenter/commentator.
Congratulations on one of the best hubs I have seen!
Thank you dearly.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on March 23, 2011:
Thank you Amy, not many people do! Thanks for checking it out!
Amy DeMarco from Chicago on March 22, 2011:
Very cool hub. I never knew about any of these ancient animals. Thanks for sharing!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on March 12, 2011:
Thank you my friend, We live in a milder day and age as far as ferocious beasts go, but it's fun to imagine life on our planet before us!
toknowinfo on March 12, 2011:
Wow, some of those creatures, actually most of them were scary to me. But ohhh so fascinating. Thanks for creating this very interesting hub. Your expertise is showing and I love it. voted up and awesome.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on March 03, 2011:
Hi DaNovlest, nice to meet you! Very nice compliment, Thank you! It's always good to escape into another world from time to time! tee hee
DaNoblest from California on March 03, 2011:
Wow this was a fascinating read. You had me transported back 100s of millions of years. It is amazing to see what creatures our ocean had long ago. Great hub!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 27, 2011:
You make me laugh out loud! Oh my gosh!
Gustave Kilthau from USA on February 27, 2011:
Fossillady - Brought back some memories... that dunkleosteous of yours reminded me of my sixth grade teacher. Only difference was that her teeth were shorter and that she carried a heavy wooden ruler in her right hand.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 22, 2011:
Good idea Pras! I think your students will like it. You could do a lesson plan around it! Kids go for this kind of stuff, specially the boys! lol
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on February 22, 2011:
Wow.... you have done a great job. I learn much from you and I never knew about this before. I'll show this to my student, they'll like this very much. Thanks for writing this. Vote up. Take care!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 21, 2011:
Thank you sweet lady, I agree, it is an amazing place!
daydreamer13 on February 20, 2011:
This is so cool! I absolutely love this planet we live on! Excellent hub!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 20, 2011:
Doug, if I made your skin crawl, then I did my job! LOL Appreciate the refreshing comment!
Fibo, Hi, That's why I'm the fossillady!! You're comment gave me a big smile! much thanks
fibo777 from UK on February 20, 2011:
Wow! Wow! Wow! The hub is useful, beautiful and awesome. One of the best I have seen on hubpages. I have not expected that you could write about the creatures. Awesome analysis. Thanks a lot.
Doug Turner Jr. on February 19, 2011:
Seeing these creatures and reading about them seriously makes my skin crawl. Just the raw, survival-of-the-fittest power of these animals is truly terrifying.
Very original and fun hub. I love finding hubs like this, especially after spending time reading serious or commercial topics. It's a refreshing break, like a cold lemonade.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 13, 2011:
Great poem here MsLizzy!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 13, 2011:
Just take a trip to San Francisco--it's probably still there...
And check out my Apatosaur poem...I wrote it "way many" years back, even before the name change, I suspect...for some reason, that name hopped into my head, and I thought "there's a poem there someplace." ... ;-)
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 12, 2011:
Thank you Ruby, It's a bit of an obsession with fossils ever since my husband gave me one he found and then his friend hand me over about twenty fossils. Had to know what everything was and how it lived. It's turned into a fun, fun hobby.Glad you enjoyed it. That's what its all about!
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 12, 2011:
Well, I must say, " I am amazed at your expertise in this area " This was so interesting. Geez, I don't think i want to go boat riding or swimming Hee. Watching the videos were like watching the National Geographic. I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 12, 2011:
Yes, they changed the Brontosaurus name to Apatosaurus for some strange reason. I would have loved to see that Coelocanth on display, they thrived during the Devonian Period about 400 million years ago. That means they survived several mass extinctions. I wish they could discover more of them without killing them of course. Good to see you! Smiles!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 12, 2011:
Very interesting. I often wonder what still lurks in the ocean depths, lingering from earlier eras. After all, wasn't the Coelocanth once thought exinct, and then they caught one?
I remember, as a child, staring awestruck at its ugly magnificence. It was on display "forever" in a display case in the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, where I grew up.
It also amuses me when the scientists change their minds, frequently, about what they've found, and the name the creature should have.
Wasn't there just such a change-up between "Brontosaurus" and "Brachiosaurus?" (Or am I thinking of two different things...aghh..a mind is a terrible thing to lose...) ;-)
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 12, 2011:
b. I appreciate your complimentary comments! Glad you enjoyed the learning experience!
Colin, It is my labor of love, like gardening and writing, I'm compelled to pursue it. I feel blessed to enjoy my labors of love and share them with kind people like you! Your support is always my inspiration!
epigramman on February 12, 2011:
...well Kathi you have left quite an indelible fossil impression on my life since we've met with your support and comments and friendship. I really do think this is an essential and definitive hub once again from you - and you are quite the authority on this subject and it shows in this labor of love. You not only make this subject enlightening but also entertaining with an interesting mix of text and images ......I am also so happy for you that you are getting the recognition you deserve from your followers, fans and colleagues here at the Hub!
b. Malin on February 12, 2011:
Wow, what great photos and videos, this Hub has been a wonderful learning experience, as well as a History Lesson. You put a lot of work into giving this one to us. Thank you Fossillady!
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 12, 2011:
Thanks for stopping by AA, I have to admit I'm not familiar with the wolf fish, but I'm glad you found Dunkleoteus fascinating. Take Care
Augustine A Zavala from Texas on February 12, 2011:
This was absolutely facinating. I think it's interesting that Dunkleoteus resembles the modern day wolf fish. Thank you for sharing.
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 11, 2011:
acer, yes, that always mystified me how scientists could gather so much information about extinct species. They study in depth is an understatement. I know they do use similar living species and base some knowledge in combination to the time period along with the fossils.
Eaglebomber, nice to meet you, thank you for stopping by, appreciate the compliment! Smiles
Minn Twin, good to see you again. Thank you for the compliment, so glad you liked it!
Nell, What I would give to find an ammonite! Oh, my heart flutters. Thanks for following me! Your hubs are right up my ally. I love the unexplained phenomenon that you write about!
Nell Rose from England on February 11, 2011:
Hi, I really loved this! I grew up studying fossils and have had great times digging for fossils in the jurassic coast in England, a couple of years ago I found an ammonite in the stones on the beach! the locals find them, clean them up and sell them at the shops, but they missed this one! I have also collected quite a few ammonites too, they sit in residence on my cabinet in the front room! loved it, even if some of these frightened the life out of me! lol cheers nell
Linda Rogers from Minnesota on February 11, 2011:
I loved this fascinating hub. Cool videos and cool pictures.
Eaglebomber from Texas on February 11, 2011:
I've got to give it to you, this was an incredibly interesting article.
Kudos to you!
Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on February 11, 2011:
The creatures of the water-world Earth are greatly facinating and even neater is the fact that man can develop such great knowledge of a time so long ago!;)
Kathi Mirto (author) from Fennville on February 11, 2011:
If you have a nightmare you'll have to write about it with your famous flare for creating a vision! Thanks for stopping by!
damian0000 from Belfast on February 11, 2011:
Hey Fossillady --- i asked for nice hub about some millipedes and you gone and frightened the life out of me with some pre-historic monsters! No doubt i will have nightmares about sea-scorpions and dunkleosteouses tonight... great hub and the pictures and videos are very vivid and informative :-)