I loved South Carolina! It was putridly hot and moist every minute of the day, but the climate, florae and faunae reminded me of the Carboniferous Period, 359-299 million years ago. Most landscape scenes of the Carboniferous period look something like this:
Just like the landscapes in South Carolina where I visited looked like this:
If you want to be a real stickler, you could point out that palm trees didn’t exist on earth until the Paleocene epoch after the K-T extinction event, some 239 million years after the Carboniferous period. But I choose to overlook that and willingly suspend some disbelief. Did you know that today is Jon’s and my 2-year wedding anniversary? We couldn’t really do anything grand to observe it today since we have work and it’s been such a damn busy week already, but I like to pretend that we celebrated it last week- by taking a time machine to the Carboniferous Period and getting a chance to look around.
The Carboniferous period is noteworthy for its explosion of diversity in terrestrial life. Prior to the Carboniferous, life boomed primarily in the oceans and freshwater, while creatures were only beginning to creep onto the land. By the Carboniferous period, the first known amniote eggs developed, meaning that they were adapted for land, unlike say, frog eggs, which look more like jelly-blobs and can only survive in water. This meant that during the Carboniferous period, we had the world’s first tiny reptiles!
Here’s one watching us play Carboniferous mini-golf:
And look closer- he caught something!
Even though this was the year ~300 million years before the birth of Christ, we still had to pray before teeing off:
It didn’t seem to do much good, though. What a tricky hole- the pin is right next to the water, which the ball seems unable to walk on:
So, back to the Carboniferous period- almost every depiction of this period features a giant dragonfly. This is because insects were enormous back then! Insects and other arthropods are limited in how large they can grow according to the oxygen concentration in the air. During the Carboniferious period, dragonflies were two feet wide because the oxygen content back then was very high. They weren’t the only huge arthropods of the day though. Isopods, which you may know as sowbugs, rolly-pollies, armadillo bugs or pillbugs- were four feet long back then.
Our trip to the Carboniferous was fraught with monstrously huge insects and arachnids as well. Check out this spider:
I threw my hand into the picture for scale:
I looked it up- she’s called a golden silk orb weaver. She’s the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in person, not counting pet store tarantulas. I like this picture because if you look close, you can see her husband near one of her right legs. He’s considerably smaller than she is, and I read that she cannibalizes him after mating, so I think he hasn’t begun to woo her yet. Right now he’s just hoping that he won’t be noticed until she’s in the mood.
Another giant arthropod we encountered during our Carboniferous trip was right in our bedroom:
Again, it’s the largest cockroach I’ve ever seen, save for the ones for sale at pet stores. Back home in New England in the Holocene epoch of the Quaternary period, they’re not even half that size. I know that these are uninteresting and unwelcome to people who come from or live in the south, but this was my very first palmetto bug and I was excited! I didn’t want to touch him so I grabbed him with some toilet paper and sent him outside on his merry way. I couldn’t imagine squooshing such a huge, crunchy bug. Gross. If I’d had my The Lizard with me, I would have fed it to her.
Holy crud! It was dead when I found it, so I took this one home with me. The most gigantic cicada I’ve ever seen! I took a picture of it with a periodical cicada I had in my collection for comparison:
For more scale, here’s a picture I took of a live annual cicada found in Massachusetts, Quaternary period:
And here’s the dead one in the same pose, found in South Carolina, Carboniferous period:
Sweet annoying cupcake-boutique, is everything without a spine in SC twice as large as its New England counterpart?
Not all the arthropods were oversized, though. The remaining ones were either swarming or venomous or both.
At the cemetery we found an undulating ball of daddy longlegs:
Under the palm leaves were collections of stinging wasps:
And while Jon was taking this picture of an aggressive tree for me-
He gently advised me that I should move from that spot and whatever I did, I must not kneel or sit because the ground was crawling with fire ants. Indeed it was. Everything can hurt you in the Carboniferous!
Do I dare ask what this is? Some land-dwelling nudibranch? Aiiie!
Our jaunt into the ancient primordial forest was delightful, but everything seemed cool and tame once we returned to the chilly, temperate Holocene woodlands of Massachusetts. The cicadas seemed inadequate, though.