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Crab Haul at Wawa

September 9, 2009




Driving across Canada this summer, I was surprised to encounter this colourfully decorated U-Haul in northern Ontario.  It is wonderful to see a corporation using its advertising space to talk about relatively obscure (if very impressive) invertebrates.

Perhaps U-Haul aren’t being entirely accurate when they say that horseshoe crabs “survived” evolution, but I’m sure that the company was trying not to offend the sensibilities of some of the customers who might have ended up driving around with this informative blurb on the side of their vehicle (there are also a few minor inaccuracies in the web explanation that accompanies it, but I still give U-Haul full marks for including this in their Supergraphics series).




Horseshoe crabs (or xiphosurids) did, of course, survive the dinosaurs.  Doubly so, since the oldest horseshoe crabs are about twice as old as the oldest dinosaurs (the Ice Ages were just yesterday geologically speaking, so I won’t even try to make that comparison). And horseshoe crabs have evolved, but they have done so slowly. Creatures evolve as much as they need to, in response to selection pressures, and horseshoe crabs have long been superbly adapted to shoreline and nearshore environments. Modern Limulus is not immensely different from Lunataspis and other Ordovician horseshoe crabs, but it is nonetheless different.  Those ancient creatures do possess some characters, such as the segmentation between their thorax and telson (tail), that place them closer to the stem-group arthropods than any of their living relatives.

If you want to read more about this subject, Dave Rudkin and I have just published a general review of the evolution of xiphosurids in this new book. I haven’t seen the volume yet, but I am really looking forward to getting a copy!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2009 6:34 am

    I wrote a piece about the geologically-themed supergraphics in Geotimes a few years ago. I think this program is a terrific public service that U-Haul provides: the graphics are public art, and educational. Bravo to them for doing them, and bravo to you for reminding us of their coolness.

    • Graham permalink*
      September 10, 2009 9:15 am

      Thank you! I do recall seeing that piece (and am adding a link to it), and had seen a few of them on the road, but I had never encountered the horseshoe crab image before. I agree that they deserve kudos from the scientific community for this wonderful series. Although I mentioned “inaccuracies”, these are merely the sorts of things that creep in when one tries to compress an immense body of knowledge into a short and simple piece for a public audience. Museums wrestle with this sort of thing all the time, and I’m sure that experts on particular fields can similarly find issue with text I have produced for exhibits.

  2. Steven Kukla permalink
    September 10, 2009 4:43 pm

    It’s the striking visual imagery that we retain and are inspired by. Heck, it’s those old Yale murals and 1960 Golden Book that inspired me to think about and fall in love with dinosaurs and fossils. Obviously we want the text to be scientific and accurate – but if the visual image causes a child of 6 or of 86 to pause, ponder and probe, and perhaps plant a desire to travel and discover more themselves, then the objective is achieved. Eventually they’ll discover the errors themselves. Believe it or not, sometimes that’s a design decision – to purposely be vague or slightly off, to spark discussion.

    BTW, I really love the way your blog mixes realtime field findings and adventures with your personal musings and interests. That’s what blogging is all about!

    • Graham permalink*
      September 11, 2009 10:34 am

      You’re absolutely right. So many of us were inspired by those dinosaur images in the Golden Book (in the same way that kids now are, perhaps, inspired by the BBC animations). There’s so much wonderful work being done in scientific illustration and animation these days that we will never run out of things to talk about!

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