I’ve always been fascinated by the fossil record, and the evolution of life, so when the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren mentioned a “segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever” I was more than a little bit intrigued. I mean, can you imagine? Shudder.
Fortunately, upon further lazy Google research, I discovered that these creatures only lived during the Cambrian period. They were quite possibly nature’s first predators, though, and they were around for about 20 million years. I’m glad our species’ time on earth didn’t overlap, or I’d never swim in the ocean again. Ever.
Before they ever discovered any Anomalocaris fossils, they kept coming across trilobite fossils with strange bite marks on their shells. What could be hunting these trilobites? What creature in the Cambrian period had such formidable jaws?
The first part of Anomalocaris that was discovered was a long, segmented appendage that juts off near its mouth. When a fossil of that part was found, scientists assumed it was some sort of shrimp. They named it Anomalocaris, or Odd Shrimp, for that very reason. They kept waiting for a fossil that would show the head of this shrimp, but they never found one.
Then they found a fossil of the mouth. It’s a very weird thing, most often described as a pineapple slice. It’s segmented, and doughnut shaped, with sharp prongs in the center. As a stand alone creature, it was assumed that this was some weird kind of jellyfish.
A fossil of the body was mistaken for a sponge.
But over time, paleontologists came to realize that these fossils were quite often found together, and then finally it was determined that these weird body parts all belonged to one creature. A highly efficient, shell cracking, trilobite terrorizer. And now I can’t get this creepy thing out of my head.
So I figured that the least I could do was put it into yours, dear reader. Now, check out this video, and your journey will be complete.
I consider myself a strong, intelligent woman who is equally left- and right-brained. By this I mean that I’m analytical and fascinated by all things scientific, but I’m also creative and love to write. So it was gratifying to come across the book Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, because she can be described in the exact same way.
Hope is a professor of geobiology at the University of Oslo. Science is her passion as well as her bread and butter. Because of that, you’d think that any book she wrote about her life and career would be dry and pedantic. But no.
This book is a work of art. Read it. Seriously. You’ll be glad you did.
This is not just a book about plants, although if you read it you’ll learn all sorts of amazing things about them, and you’ll never look at a tree in the same way again. For me, though, what it is about, more than anything, is friendship.
Woven throughout this book is her relationship with her senior research laboratory manager, Bill. They have worked together in various labs around the world for 25 years. Theirs is not a romance. It’s something better. It’s unconditional, platonic love and respect. It’s dedication. It’s mutual support. It’s the kind of relationship that all of us aspire to, and most of us only dream about.
The book also talks about being a woman who chooses a career in a male-dominated field, which is something to which I can definitely relate. It’s also about mental health, and finding your place in this world, and never quite feeling like you fit in. It’s about being misunderstood by many, except for the most important people in your life. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
And it is amazingly well written. I keep a quote book where I save passages from books that really resonate with me. Here are some of the ones I plan to save from Lab Girl.
“He (her father) taught me that there is no shame in breaking something, only in not being able to fix it.”
“Each beginning is the end of a waiting.”
“In Georgia, when someone walks up to you wearing overalls with no shirt underneath them, it is unlikely that something good is about to happen.”
“A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.”
“Being paid to wonder seems like a heavy responsibility at times.”
Because of this author, I went out and planted ten trees. How many people have gotten you to do that? And hey, she has inspired me to write a future posts about Stuckie the Mummified Dog and about Anomalocaris, “a segmented marine insect the size of a Labrador retriever” that, thanks be to God, no longer exists. Now if that doesn’t intrigue you, nothing will.