Saturday, 14 December 2013

More future evolution in Japan

Sometimes I like to revisit sites to see whether there is anything new. In this post I will show a few interesting species that came up in this way. The site in question was visited in 2010, and shows the work of the Japanese author and illustrator Satoshi Kawasaki. He specialises in palaeontological illustrations but does not shy away from extending the time line of his work well into the future, up to 200 million years from now, in fact. In palaeontological papers and books you sometimes read 'mya' as an abbreviation for 'million years ago'. As the world of speculative biology is less hampered by ugly facts, perhaps it could profit from having a similar term for 'million years from now': myfn, or perhaps 'million years on': myo.

Click to enlarge; Copyright Satoshi Kawasaki

As I wrote before, Mr. Kawasaki has the sense of humour that allows him not to take his creatures equally seriously, something I like very much (I find mere monsters boring). Some of the animals on the pages showing life 100 and 200 myo are apparently drawn by other artists than himself, so het lets others play along, another nice trait. I would have like to exchange emails, but previous attempts to contact him failed. Let's have a look at some of the creatures.

Click to enlarge; Copyright Satoshi Kawasaki
In Google's translation this one is called 'Nereusu'. By omitting some of the Japanese characters I found out that Nereusu is simply a transliteration of the Japanese characters, so I could not translate it.  I therefore suppose the name refers to Nereus, the mythical being from classical Greece Nereus, who was after all as sort of sea god. Somewhat ironically, there is of course another Nereus in speculative biology...

Anyway, the animal is obviously a large marine predatory bird descendant (probably descended from penguin stock). Students of speculative biology will note that such creatures are very abundant in fictional future seas, as they apparently tend to evolve in the minds of many creators. I do not really mind if such a concept is not completely original; after all, all of science fiction is full of common ideas. While I applaud originality, there is also pleasure in seeing a job well done. Mr. Kawasaki is a very adroit illustrator, and this is an excellent 'future orca-like penguin-descendant marine predatory beast'.

Click to enlarge; Copyright Satoshi Kawasaki
Have a look at this drawing, and you will probably guess what it is about without having to read the text. It can only be a social crab modelled on the pattern of ants, bees and similar colony dwellers. There is one giant 'mother' laying lots of eggs, here very neatly held in a redeveloped abdomen. The ones in the front must be soldiers, and the little ones in the middle must be workers. I cannot see whether or not they have pincers, but assume they do; otherwise, what will workers work with?

Click to enlarge; Copyright Satoshi Kawasaki
Sometimes Mr Kawasaki works on a theme; in my previous post I showed terrestrial cephalopods (I know, I know...), and this time I will focus on a group of his animals that do not seem to enjoy the common attention of future evolutionists: starfish! There is only one on the 100 myo page, shown above. It is not drawn by Kawasaki but by someone else. It may also be the most original of all the future Asteroidea ('starfish'). You cannot beat Google Translate for creating a sense of wonder, particularly where one was not intended: "One of the arm portion becomes large, the remaining portion forms a head lump pseudo part." I guess we would have guessed that anyway: four of the five original arms have shrunken and are now appendages around what is now a proper head. As a result, the animal is now bilaterally symmetrical. I do not quite see how evolution would set off in this particular direction, but like the result. I do not think I have seen anyone else designing this before, either.

Click to enlarge; Copyright Satoshi Kawasaki
The world of 200 myo has more future Asteroidea.The one above is a pseudoplant, a Parasasuteru. It lives in Australian swamps and -I think!- envelops animals moving in its shade, only to digest them at leisure.

Click to enlarge; Copyright Satoshi Kawasaki
And finally, one I rather like: the 'Di pedal stell' ; could that be a 'bipedal star', I wonder? If you count the number of limbs, you will find six rather then five, but the texts suggests that one of the original arms has split to form two legs: "Part of the two-that looks like a foot is what arm once was transformed." Probably. Have a look at Mr Kawaski's site for other interesting creatures, or, if you like palaeontological illustrations -who doesn't?- visit his pages of the past world.

And now something somewhat different
I have been looking for other projects of speculative biology, but have not found any new ones. I searched in various languages, albeit my skills are limited to Germanic and Romance ones. If readers know of projects that deserve attention, let me know, particularly ones I am likely to miss, such as ones in Slavic or non-European languages.

Finally, I have begun considering ending this blog. It is in its sixth year and I feel that some of the freshness has gone. The number of readers has not diminished, by the way: it is stable and in fact grows slowly. I find it a bit more difficult to come up with new subjects, and after more than five years the blog has perhaps become a fixture in the little world of speculative biology, not something that attracts much attention. Perhaps blogs are a bit like television series; at some point you stop caring about the characters, and that may be the time to consider a final episode. 


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I follow your blog for a long time and when you want to a few new speculative evolution projects I take the audacity to suggest some of my own.

A fictional archipelago in the pacific ocean with strange plants, insects, birds and, inter alia, flipthless azhdarchids. It's not nearly complete yet but maybe worth a look:

A moon named after the roman god of the forest. Its global ocean is covered by endless forests, mainly formed by the tree genera Mundodendralis. It's the home of the Pseudoathropods, the Cuspipoda and eyeless vertebrates:

Dragons of the world:
A project where I create realistic dragons based on monitor lizards, they don't breath fire, have only 4 limbs and have a much more realistic size than many of their fantasy literture relatives. I'm working on evolution, anatomy, behavior and ecology:

Maybe there is something intersting for you =)

All the best,

Joschua Kn├╝ppe

For questions:

Petr said...

Interesting post! the bilateral starfish critter looks incredible, I love the concept! :)

I will respect your decision if you want to end this blog, I understand it swallowed a lot of your time and that you want to spend it differently from now on, just let me say that you have done a fantastic job analysing biomechanics, I really appreciate it.

As far as other projects go, deviantart seems to be the place to go, there is a lot of people interested in the subject, some projects are better than others obviously, and I would list these:

Too bad the last one has been in stasis for years by now, but the first two are still active I could probably find more, but these three really stand out in the quallity of art and the ammount of thought that went into them, that's why they stand out in my opinion, that's why i enjoy them, just like I enjoy Furaha :)


Anonymous said...

Isn't the project from Marc Boulay coming out next year?

Jan said...

If you did not mind that they are mostly from deviantart and not always speculative biologists in the strict sense, some of the pages I found interesting:

Ken Barthelmey

Vincent Coviello

Andrea Claudio Gassler

Carlos Pizcueta

Dylan Tracey

John Meszaros

Marcelino Juan Venegas Hernandez

Jordan K Walker

Simon Roy

Karim Braik

Michael Beaudry

Rodrigo Vega

Petr said...

@Jan - small world! I am already "watching" all of them! :D

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Joschua, Petr, Jan, Anonymous

Thank you for these lists. I will take a good look at them later. And yes, The French Future Evolution is on track for 2014 as far as I know.

Petr said...

I almost forgot... Happy Holidays everyone! :)

Petr said...

Sorry for the spam, this is another attention-worthy project that I know of, but forgot to mention it previously

Spearhafoc said...

I'm not sure if these count, but I've been designing creatures from various public domain works and trying my best to make them fit together evolutionarily.

Here are the ones I'm doing for Mars:

And likewise for Earth's Moon:

Anonymous said...

I too have a speculative-biology-themed DeviantArt account

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Now this is getting confusing: there is an 'El Squibbonator' on the SpecEvo forum, and apparently also on DeviantArt. But there is also an 'ElSqiubbonator'? Are you both the same person? What is going on?

For anyone wishing to draw my attention to interesting projects: thank you for the ones mentioned so far! There are some gems in there. The ones that generally interest me most are those that combine good stories, meaning well-thought out evolutionary backgrounds, with good art work. It's that combination that is rare, and that is what attracts me most. That, and things I have never seen before, in style or subject.

El Squibbonator said...

All three are me. ElSqiubbonator is my main DeviantArt account--its name is because of a typo. I made a second account with a different spelling when I accidentally logged off my first one and forgot my password. I don't use this second account anymore and I have deactivated it.

Christmas Snow said...

The first future evolution of the starfishes reminds me of your "rusps". That being said, it raises a question about a 5-fold (or more) organism evolving in a manner which breaks that symmetry: Do the "arms" of a starfish possess genetic codes shared with the other "arms", or does each arm have its own genetic code?
- In the former case, this rusp-like creature could not have evolved, I assume. It would rather evolve into a worm-like creature elongating along its axis following the example of its relative: the sea cucumber.
- In the latter case, arms may grow to different lengths: Augmented arm will have to accommodate internal organs and become the main body, two arms become mandibles and two become the eyestalks. The hydraulic legs on the mandibles will serve for carrying food to the mouth (A conveyor "belt"), and tasting.

Petr said...

Christmas Snow - I know what you meant but you worded it strangely... there is no such thing as parts of a creature having their "own" dna. all cells have the same dna.

there are three types of genes. genes that are for making stuff, genes that work like switches that switch these genes on and off, and genes that tell the "switches" when to turn what on or off. So in humans for example you have genes for making a finger, and then you have genes that repeat the finger-making process five times. When you take a finger, similar process is responsible for making the phallanges. but your thumb has one less phalange than other fingers, so variation in this regard is plausible I think. When it comes to the starfish, I would expect there are the arm-making genes, and the switch genes repeat the process five times and then stop, and if this process allows for different number of phallanges in different digits of the human hand, I guess there is nothing stopping similar asymetry from arising in starfish, all it needs sre switch genes that let one arm grow long and cut the development of the other arms early on.

Thing is, why hasn't this evolved already? starfish do not exhibit encephalization, and directions like front, back, left, right mean nothing to them, they can decide to change direction instantly (a hilarious concept considering how unbelievably slow they are) and proceed to move in that direction, they seem to be perfectly happy this way with no pressure for evolving a front and aft end - when there is no environmental pressure, even things that could be possible in concept (nothing about the genetics themselves preventing it from happening) it may not evolve in reality. But future evo is about exploring new ideas and this is a great idea imho :)
On the other hand, if starfish were to be pressured to become faster, I don't think it's far-fetched to think one of the arms would take on a function of a "body" (all of the arms are equally important "bodies" to the starfish already, each arm has an array of tube feet and reproductive organs and veeeeeery simple eyes at the tip, maybe the reproductive organs will only be retained in the "main" arm and will not develop in the shorter arms, the eyes on the shorter arms could become more complex, etc, like I said, starfish are not pressured to become fast, they will not become bilateral until they are :)

sea cucumbers evolved an oblong body plan in a different way, imagine a starfish groeing tall like a tower and then knocked over to the side and you have a sea cucumber XD Maybe something like this is more feasable XD but then again, we have sea cucumbers already, no need to re-evolve them... XD

And yes, you are right, it does look like a rusp kind of, I thought that too :)

Anonymous said...

I don't see this place as having lost any freshness. (some subjects do recur, yes, but never in the same way, even in the IInd, IV, etc of a set so marked)

That said, it is *your* site and your blog, and thus the decision is entirely your own. Whatever you decide to do, is the right choice.

Furaha will always have fans. And I will always be one of them.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Christmas Snow and Petr: It is funny that you should both have compared the adapted starfish to a rusp; now that you mention it, I see the resemblance, but the thought would not have struck me without your comments. By the way, the next post will combine sauropods with rusps. I will post it ahead of schedule so you will have something to read on Christmas. ;-)

The idea raised by both of you is very interesting. The growth of limbs in tetrapods is apparently controlled by concentrations of chemicals working on anterior to posterior axes, proximal to distal etc. In a starfish, you can imgine similar principles working on a central to peripheral principle, and within each of the five arms there might be a medial-to-lateral principle working (each arm is symmetrical after all). I have not checked how much is known about homeoboxes etc. in starfishes. I can imagine similar processes working on one arm more than on others, but one thing greatly puzzles me, and that is which arm to start with? How would the process 'choose' one particular arm? Does that suppose that the arms are not completely alike, and that they can be distinguished in some way? Are some arms more equal than others?

Rodlox: thank you! The main problems are time and perhaps the need for a fresh approach. I am glad that you think that it is not a problem. I have decides to keep going at least until I can announce the publication of the book on future evolution by my French friends, on which they are still working very hard.

Christmas Snow said...

Petr: Yes, the explanation was vague, and what I meant is:
Is there one set of genes that controls all five parts (or "arms") or is there a "duplicate copy" of the same genes for each of the arms?

The reason is as follows: If one gene affects all five arms, then you cannot alter one arm (based on that gene) without altering the others. The only way I can see that work is that each set of genes controls a different arm, necessitating the duplication of the genetic sequence.

Jan said...

I am glad that I hear about the continuation of the blog. I think that so many speculative biologists with their own projects gathering here is a proof about "freshness" of this site.

Petr said...

@SN - That is a really good food for thought! How would the big arm be decided... hmmm... even if there were no arms more "equal" than others, if there were a genetic glitch affecting one of the arms and not in others, that could do it, right? it could be entirely arbitrary, based on a random mutation. Is there really a "main" arm in a radial creature? how do these arms develop in embryos? do they grow one by one or at the same time? if they grow one by one, then the first one could be the most important one, if they grow at the same time, there probably is no arm more important than any other. I read somewhere that a detached starfish arm can re-grow the rest of the starfish, I don't know how much truth is to this claim, but if that's the case, then all arms are equal...

I am really excited for your rusp post, I love them! :)

I am so happy that you are continuing the blog, I would miss it greatly.

I am an origami designer in my spare time, I wonder how hard it would be to make a rusp. I never thought of doing this before, but now I am determined! How many pairs of legs do they have?

@Christmas Snow - I see, I don't know if this is really how starfdish genetics work, if I said I do, I would be lying, but if there is a set of genes that makes an arm, and then there are genes that tell these genes when to turn on and off, and then there are genes which control the repetition of this process as many times as there is arms.

Is it possible to have some mutations being expressed in one arm and not others? Is there hidden, hardly measurable assymetry in living starfish? I would guess not even a normal starfish is perfectly symmetrical and that there are slight differences in lengths of the individual arms, all due to when the growing genes were turned off. If they are turned off in some arms earlier than in others by a large margin, it should produce an obviously assymetrical starfish with one arm "bias" which forms the "body" in this hypothetical creature, after all, you get humans with extra fingers, tails, exaggerated extremities, there must be some analogous mutations occuring in starfish, and all it would take for them to spread throughout the population is if these individuals had an advantage - if one of the arms was noticably longer, the starfish might incline to prefer moving in one direction and therefore incline to encephalization and bilateralization over many generations. It is plausble in concept but not necessarily something that is going to happen, and even if it weren't plausible, sometimes it's worth it to suspend science in favour of an original idea, we are talking about fiction, after all, not reality :)

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Hmmm; a closer look at starfish anatomy revealed that they are not perfectly symmetrical inside, so they depart from perfect 'pentamery' anyway. In their larval stage they are bilaterally symmetrical as well, so you might think that some trace of that has been left during their evolution towards five-sided radial symmetry.
In fact, just a year a go a study was published showing that adult starfish still show a predilection for one arm direction in their behaviour (an odd study). Here it is:

It's on PlosOne, so it is free. So the final answer is that there are still traces of a bilateral anatomy in starfish, so perhaps these can be reversed. Now we know which arm to look out for...

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Oh yes: I haven't decided yet that the blog will continue; I merely indicated a specific event that may act as an end point.

Petr said...

@SN - Wow that's amazing! :)

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Petr: an origami rusp? That would be amazing...
Now that the painting has been finished, the number of legs of a rusp is officially settled at 24.

Petr said...

@SN - All right! I'll get working!

Merry Christmas to you and to everyone here! :)

nanotyranus said...

Ooh, a lot of interesting stuff here. It's always good to have a look in here and find something interesting (which is every new blog post, to be honest)!

For my own project, Jurassic Split: Reborn, I tend to use MYL (Million Years Later) as my future-timeline-acronym-thing of choice, such as 10MYL, 40MYL and 80MYL for the time periods.

Petr said...

I wonder if this gets noticed, but the "bilateral" starfish reminds me of this concept: