Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Elder Moss, Pink Slugs and Cannibal Snails

A University of Alberta biologist has grown fresh moss from a 400-year-old specimen found after Arctic ice melted away. We repeat: Moss, buried under polar ice for centuries, was ground up and placed in fresh soil. Seven out of 24 samples grew green and new moss.

Yes, the polar ice is melting and that’s horrible. We are not here to diminish the wailing of the klaxons that herald the end of humanity’s “dominion” over this planet.

Having recently read H.P. Lovecraft’s excellent novella At the Mountains of Madness, and then this article from the Edmonton Journal about Catherine La Farge’s resuscitation of dormant moss, the immediate, and we feel, appropriate, question is: What else is under the ice caps?

We don’t doubt the tenacity of moss. Cockroaches and rats have nothing on moss, lichens and fungus, in terms of survival skill. No animal will ever best a plant in that department, until the skies rain ammonia. Then we’re all done for.

But if moss can creep out from beneath the thaw, it’s only a matter of time before somebody accidentally wakes up a shoggoth.

La Farge herself says: “’Now we have to think there may be populations of land plants that survived that freezing. It makes you wonder what’s under the big ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic and alpine glaciers.’”

She goes on to call glacial ice an “`Unrecognized genetic reservoir ... We really have not examined all the biological systems that exist in the world; we don’t know it all.’"

While we’re on the topic of slimy things that lurk in dark, little-explored corners of the globe, we direct your attention to New South Wales, Australia.

From the misty heights of Mount Kaputar, a rainforest peak and National Park amidst New South Wales’ generally dry landscape, comes news of new species of invertebrates once only rumored to exist.

One of the confirmed new creatures is a retina-frying pink slug that feeds on moss and mold while the world sleeps. It’s a pretty thing with the kind of coloring we’d expect to come from Laffy Taffy.

The other big discovery at Kaputar is a snail that feeds on other snails, particularly snails that follow a strict vegetarian diet. And if bumper stickers have taught us anything, it’s that vegetarians taste better. Good work, cannibal snail.

[Incantations of ancient thank-yous to Edmonton Journal, The Age, and Pahko]