If there’s anything we learn from the study of past animals, it’s that animals in the past were a lot cooler than the ones we have today. I don’t want to dismiss the general coolness of modern animals, since so many of them know where I live and have heard that I’m made of meat (not wholly: parts of me are made of vanadium, and parts of me are an after-market add-on stereo that never worked right, which is why I never hear people’s names when they’re given to me and must instead rely on checking their name tags), but the general rule is, the farther in the past you go, the cooler they were.
Take sloths, for example. Today the average sloth is a pleasant enough creature, sweet-looking and not bothersome in its ways. But back before the recent Ice Age, there were sloths with amazing features: giant ones, for example, ones the size of minivans. And this was a time when minivans were gigantic, with accommodations for up to forty people, or forty-four if they were feeling alliterative and had clean outfits on, with side-impact airbags and well over 150 cupholders. The modern sloth of today, meanwhile, is extremely vulnerable to rolling over at highway speeds, and has only the two cupholders, and if you try taking your cup without the sloth’s being ready for you they get all bitey. You would have to signal them appropriately, using the telegraph, because they like the old-time feel of that.
Biting is not a problem with snails, though, another species that used to be far cooler. At least I assume it’s not. You never hear of snails biting people in any really inconvenient ways, although I suppose it’s possible that reflects people being too embarrassed to talk about it. Try imagining the scene. “You’re looking a bit off, George.” “Yeah, Sarah, I got bit by a snail.” “Don’t talk to me again.”
(And yet, who’s at fault in that situation? George? I don’t assume he meant to be bit by a snail. Sarah? But how could she know that George was looking off because of snail-bite? I don’t even know just how a snail bite off-looks one, and you can’t expect people not experts in the snail field to know that particular look of offed-ness. The snail we have to hold blameless, because how would it know that George was going to be talking to Sarah later that day, unless the snail was George’s personal assistant and kept his schedule. But in that case, we have to suppose the biting was done for personal reasons. George’s reference to his assistant as “a snail” instead of by name suggests a certain callousness in his attitude towards other people and/or snails, and maybe he deserves what he got.)
Anyway, back two Ice Ages ago, snails were really something, reaching heights of over sixty feet tall when not hopping about. They required airplane warning lights to flash at the tops of their eye-stalks, lest they be hazards to aviation, and at that they weren’t allowed within five miles of LaGuardia Airport, which they didn’t want to approach anyway because they know what the roads are like there. That’s the sort of goop-based organism you’d be proud to be bitten by, if the question ever arose.
Five and a half Ice Ages ago there were similarly astonishing things done with frogs, some of which were able to leap 250 feet into the air. This is all the more astonishing when you realize that at the time the planet was covered at a height of forty feet by palm fronds, growing on ferns who were trying to get out of their own ruts. The leaves themselves were ten feet thick, made of reinforced concrete, and clad on the underside by a protective osmium-iridium alloy, which just makes the frogs’ accomplishment all the more astounding. Nowadays frogs simply hang out in the background and try not to get roped into Calaveras County publicity affairs. It’s a long way down.
You know, maybe the problem is the Ice Ages. We’re clearly getting the worst out of the animals with each of them. We should have a talk with the Department of Age about that.