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An Artist’s Conception of the Extinct Vampyropod

Back during the dark depths of the great recession, this blog featured a post concerning the vampire squid. This poor creature (which has become famous as a sort of symbol of the anticompetitive and monopolistic practices of bulge-bracket banks) is neither a vampire nor a squid, but rather a “vampiromorphid” an enigmatic order of cephalopods which is currently represented by only a single living species (although there are many extinct species and maybe there are still new vampiromorphs to be found down in the depths somewhere). Anyway, the vampiromorphids sort of fell off of my radar for a little while until a few weeks ago, when a forgotten piece of 328 million year old limestone from Montana helped paleontologists determine that the vampiromorphids are more closely related to octopuses than to other cephalopods.

The piece of stone was collected in Montana and donated to the Royal Ontario Museum back in 1988. Nobody realized the significance of the ancient rock (above, which reveals little to a layperson) until scientists from the American Museum of Natural History examined it and determined that it was a whole new genus of cephalopod (in fact it probably exemplifies new orders and families as well–but taxonomists are still sorting it out). They named the little vampyropod Syllipsimopodi bideni in honor of the current U.S. President with hopes of bringing attention to his climate initiatives.

Syllipsimopodi bideni, which had ten legs covered in tiny suckers, seemingly shares a common ancestor with vampire squids (which, again, are not really squids) and octopuses. Back when it was alive, during the Carboniferous Period, Montana was a shallow tropical sea, not unlike the Bay of Bengal today. That map of the world the vampyropod lived on is pretty interesting as well!

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This story doesn’t really have a point–it is just the brief tale of a senseless crash on the road.  Yet it is impossible not to be impressed and horrified by it.  Today in Montana, a driver lost control of a semi truck and crashed the enormous vehicle into a ditch.  Although the driver and his shotgun man were both unhurt, the truck’s cargo, 40,000 pounds of honey bees, came loose during the collision and I guess are now at large in Montana (this could be the beginning of a very special modern western).  The truck was traveling from California to North Dakota which is also fascinating to me.  Were these bees going to work the orchards of North Dakota?   Was this a honey bee colony ship?  We just don’t know all of the details.  We don’t even know if the bees will be recovered, although firefighters on the scene (in full fireproof gear and contained breathing devices) said that “only” a quarter of the bees fully escaped.

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This incident has taught us that 40,000 pounds of bees is roughly equal to 133 million individual bees!  There were more honey bees on that truck then there are people in Japan.  I hope some of them set up permanent shop in Bozeman, Montana and it becomes an apiculture Mecca (maybe even changing its name to Beesman, Montana), but probably some insurance accountant will more a few numbers and the incident will be forgotten.  It really makes you wonder what is in all of those huge trucks out there on the road though…

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