Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/640

This page has been validated.

been full. Fishes of the gar-pike pattern (and yet not like that either, for they were of no one pattern in particular), with lungs far enough developed to enable them to carry on respiration in the air as well as in the water, were on the whole most abundant. In some particulars these creatures stood very low in the scale of fish-life, and yet in others they outranked any fishes with which we are familiar. The curious mixing of class characters produced results always interesting, though sometimes ludicrous. The incongruity of these combinations seems to culminate in that absurd creature, neither one thing nor the other, from the coal-fields of Bavaria, which had the head, gills, back-bone, and body generally, of a fish mounted on the limbs of a reptile (Fig. 14). Then there were real reptiles in the forests and coal-marshes; at least there were animals that by way of courtesy we may call reptiles, for they breathed air only, they were provided with true reptilian limbs, and the body was incased in a complete outfit of the

PSM V18 D640 Archegosaurus.jpg
Fig. 14.—Archegosaurus.

most approved reptilian armor. But in some respects they were not reptiles: the skeleton was imperfectly developed; the spinal column was such as belongs, of right, only to fishes; while the head and its articulation with the body, considered alone, would place them with the frog and salamander among the naked amphibians. These reptile-like creatures seem to have divided very early in their history, so as to follow two distinct lines of development: one group of small symmetrical forms, light of foot and swift of motion, frequented the higher portions of the land, and sought its food among the tribes of insects; the other, with strong limbs and jaws, with heavy body and aquatic habit, played the part of crocodiles. Now, these crocodiles were the lords of creation. All the while our coal was forming they stood at the head of created things. Had any human intelligence, with skill to read the geological record of all preceding time, been permitted to look in upon the Carboniferous world, he might well have believed that the end had come. He would have seen evidences of decay in many of the living tribes, and would have noticed that in all the past there were signs and promises and apparent preparations that seemed to point to these very tribes, and particularly to the crocodiles, as the complete realization and fulfillment of all creative designs. His human blindness to the