Peripatus: some notes

Before there were mammals,[1] there were these:

David discovers an impression of a soft body captured in mountain geology, using new methods for uncovering traces of things without skeletons.


In a half-billion years, they move from rock pool to hollow tree. They move, says James,[2] unusually. He explains, — They don’t have muscles like us, instead a series of inner chambers between which a fluid is moved. Perambulation is achieved as each chamber is flooded (and emptied) causing the lobopods to inflate and deflate.[3] Ends James, — It’s a matter of hydraulics.


We once kept them in fish tanks filled with leaf litter, says Di. We wrote questions on waterproof paper. (What temperature is their blood? Do they have eyelids?) The heart is tubular, like an unfinished balloon animal, and runs the length of the body. They feel for the tremors of blind crickets, and lock-on, throwing lassos of slime. We see their teeth through a night vision lens; imagine kitten claws, pop-out vampire fangs.


Edge of the forest, I see one harvestman nestled against a velvet body, caught in an old spell.[4] Closer still, the lobopodium inflate and deflate across the hot skin of my palm and a blob of dragonsbreath is released in complaint.


At night under tree roots we see freezing spiderwebs and the pinprick embers of glowworms. Oh, a peripatus, says Katie. The name means “walking worm”. We are silent while she searches for the folklore, but they have none. Sunbeams will shrink their bodies, she concludes. I say, — They keep ancient ways.







[1] Marine, middle-Cambrian: where lived monster starfish and every single ancestor.

[2] —taken with a grain of salt.

[3] Lobopodium: an organ resembling a limb.

[4] The skin is brontosaurus-blue, or rhinoceros-grey, depending on the angle of the eye.