Longisquama
Prehistoric Times|Winter 2021 #136
“Determined to travel from the North Pole to the South Pole, Amos Barrett and his team of adventurers have arrived in the Late Triassic to drive the length of Pangea, the only time in the planet’s history when the continents had fused into one giant landmass.
Phil Hore

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Transmission incoming from Time Inc. Entertainment.

Having traveled less than one-third distance and with the tropical forests of Siberia now behind them and having bypassed a large rift valley they dubbed the Tethys Rift, the expedition is now entering what will one day become Europe as they try to find a path south into future Canada.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Time Inc, the Imago Mundi Society and vehicle supplier Forota, join us now as the Pangeans travel from sea to shining sea.”

The camera pans around the three figures standing in the middle of the glade of giant tree ferns. About them flitters various insects, with their tiny bodies glowing in the darkening evening sky.

“This was unexpected,” one of the figures exclaims, catching one of the insects in a glass vial and then putting the vessel up to his tiny eye magnifier, a loupe, usually used by jewelers. “As I thought, these are not naturally bioluminescent.” Dr. William Clarence, the group’s entomologist, gathers a few more specimens in similar vials and hands them out to the other two.

“These could be handy if you ever lose your torch.” “If they’re not naturally luminescent like a firefly, why would they be glowing?” one of the figures in the dark asks.

“So far they’re all males; so my guess is they are feeding on some unseen luminescent fungus and using the light to attract a mate.” Clarence places his vial in a specimen box for later investigation before explaining. “True bioluminescence has evolved dozens of times independently, though in vertebrates it likely did not appear until the late Cretaceous, or perhaps even just before the Ice Age. There is evidence though that at sea luminating species are almost as old as life itself.”

One of the other figures turns to a camera floating by and states. “The glowing bugs were unexpected, and they’re not the reason we are here. When it was announced we’d be passing through what would one day be Russia, one species we were tasked to collect was these….”

With that the expedition’s zoologist, Darlene Page, lifts her torch beam into the tree canopy above their heads. “Longisquama, arguably the first terrestrial vertebrate to ever fly.”

Above the night comes alive with strange, sleek creatures with odd wings zipping from branch to branch, snatching any insect that crosses their path.

“These animals don’t look like much compared to a world filled with birds, but this was a big step evolutionarily. No longer were tetrapods tied to the earth; now they could enter the skies above.”

Having either misjudged its leap or misidentified the time travelers as a tree, one overly ambitious Longisquama lands on the head of the third figure, a mechanic called Ray Monarch. Gingerly Page places a hand over the shoulders and back of the reptile, ensuring it could not escape, and lifts the creature up. “Terrarium?” she asks.

The ‘former tree’ picks up one of the small packages at their feet and opens the receptacle. In one smooth, practiced motion the zoologist has the specimen in the container, and the door is closed.

“This little fellow is worth a lot to our sponsors. A breeding pair of living specimens were all our Russian media partners asked for, and bringing them back gives us sponsor deals and free-to-air rights in the nation for this very program.”

“The world of modern media rights,” Ray says, unconsciously brushing his hair with a hand in case the reptile had deposited something there. “Who knew such a little thing could enflame so much national pride?”

Dr. Clarence watches as a lizard flies out of the night and snaps at one of the bugs flittering past his face. “People and countries have found pride in all sorts of things over the years, and so the Russians asking for a specimen of the world’s first flying vertebrate is little enough to ask for the enormous financial support they have backed the expedition with.”

“True enough,” Page says, loading the reptile into the back of the truck. “Now grab three more, preferably a male and two females judging by this fella’s anatomy. They’ll be the basis of a new breeding program in Moscow.”

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