Tribute to a life-form long vanished (thank goodness)
In the case of those search engines, I can also see the search term that was inputted which brought up my blog as one of the search results. For example, if someone typed "Muhammad cartoon" or "Chinese view of Hiroshima" into Google and ended up on my blog as a result, I can see those search terms listed.
Well, ever since April last year, there has been one search term which, week by week and month by month, has consistently appeared more often than any other -- one word that, more than any other, has led search engines to bring people to this blog.
What is that search term? It's "eurypterids".
What, you may be wondering, is a eurypterid? Here's one:
I posted this picture back in March, here, having run across it on the internet and wondered what it was. Don't worry, the picture is fake -- it has to be, because it really is a eurypterid, and the last of them died more than 250 million years ago. But they were real.
These monstrosities belonged to the arthropod phylum (animals with jointed exoskeletons including insects, spiders, centipedes, lobsters, things like that); they were ocean-dwellers. There were 246 species of eurypterids that we know of, and probably many more that we don't know of, fossilization being the haphazard process it is. As far as we know, they were the largest arthropods that have ever existed -- the biggest species were even larger than the one in the picture above.
Despite their appearance, the eurypterids were apparently more closely related to scorpions than to lobsters, and are sometimes called "sea scorpions". They did not have stings like their smaller modern relatives, but would still have been terrifying things to encounter -- just imagine finding a "bug" like the one pictured above scuttling about your kitchen. Not exactly the sort of thing you could just step on. And, yes, some species were amphibious, able to walk on land and perhaps even living on land for part of their life cycle.
But don't worry, you will never meet one. The last of them died before the dinosaurs were even a gleam in evolution's eye. Today, we know of them only from their fossil remains.
So why are eurypterids such a much-searched item on the net? Maybe their appeal is somewhat like that of dinosaurs -- extinct animals far bigger than animals of their type, in human eyes, have any right to be. Given their bizarre and unearthly form, they may also fascinate in the same way as the monster of the Alien movies does. If a modern human were to find himself on the Earth of the Ordovician period, when eurypterids flourished, and beheld them scuttling about and perhaps sizing him up as a potential meal, he might well imagine himself to be on some ghastly alien planet.
Whatever the critters' appeal, it's not limited to English-speaking countries. By now I've actually picked up the Russian word for "eurypterid" (ракоскорпион, ra-ka-skar-pee-OWN), since it crops up regularly in the list of search terms on my stats counter.
Needless to say, this is not a word ever likely to be of much use to me for striking up conversations on the streets of Moscow ("My hovercraft is full of eurypterids"?), but at least I know something not many people in the United States know.
For whatever reason, these long-dead monsters have done much to draw attention to this blog. It seems only right that I return the favor.