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walk through time

Walk Through Time...from Stardust to Us
Six Winning Essays from the WTT at Singapore

Essay 1

Earth: 1998 AD. Man has never appeared in the planet's history, nor have most of the mammals that supposedly evolved in the span of sixty five million years. This is a time when the species Dinosauria still reigns over the Earth!

The life-giving star of our galaxy, the sun, rises above the continent of South America. It is here where the concentration of animals is the densest and of the greatest variety. An estimated two million species of animals of every suborder inhabit this lush land.

The tangle of branches and leaves that form the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, as we know it, is an elaborate and diverse ecosystem, home to many species of animals including dinosaurs. Among a curtain of leaves, there is a slight movement. To the untrained eye, it is dismissed as a breeze, but on closer inspection it reveals one of the many predators of the forest. Descended from the small theropods, the Coelurosaurids of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, the Chameleomimus, meaning "chameleon mimic" is a cunning predator that grows to a length of ten feet and preys on practically anything it can catch. Its ancestors took to the trees to avoid competition for food and slowly evolved to exist in the trees. The tail has shortened to aid more efficient movement in the canopy of the forest. The long stiff tail once used for balance during pursuit of its prey has become prehensile to aid in climbing; the eyes of the animal have evolved to make use of binocular vision and are directed forwards to judge distance. The most remarkable adaptation is the ability to change its skin patterns and color like that of a chameleon by using light sensitive pgiments in the skin which swell and contract depending on the strength of the light that shines on it. This adaptation allows it to ambush its prey which, when it unwittingly crosses its path, is then subdued by a sticky spit which the Chameleomimus produces in its saliva glands in its lower jaw. This has been enlarged and strengthened with muscles which contract violently, squirting out the modified saliva out of hollow back teeth with deadly accuracy up to two meters. The saliva on contact becoems the consistency of glue and pins the hapless victim long enough for the Chamelemimus to claim it.

The Chameleomimus stalks a gecko and prepares to spit as the unsuspecting lizard suns itself in the early morning sun. Suddenly a large shadow startles the gecko and it dives for cover just as the Chameleomimus delivers its deadly spit, missing the fortunate gecko by a hair's breadth. The unlucky hunter not yet fully grown is shocked by the sudden intruder and despite being territorial, abandons its branches and scampers away into the safety of the canopy.

In the skies above large scavenger pterodactyls are covered in woolly down to protect them against the cold of the high mountains where they live. As afternoon descends they shriek in communication and wheel about in the skies making use of thermals as they search for carrion with their extremely sharp eyesight which allows them to spot carrion up to five miles away. Their eighteen-foot wingspan is a sight to behold seeming so majestic as they soar above. Their attention is suddenly drawn away and they head for a clearing in the forest, shrieking as they circle about the clearing, reluctant to venture down to investigate.

The reason for the commotion is a Hadropelta carcass. Hadropelta are descendants of the sauropods, though smaller they still weigh a hefty twenty tons on average, not surprisingly their name means "thick skin". Their necks have grown shorter to promote blood flow efficiency; the lack of giant vegetation also affected their physical development. The legs have grown longer and more muscular for running on the plains of the Andes where they stay during the dry season. They migrate to the rainfores during the annual rains to feast on the luxuriant vegetation, to mate and give birth. Yes, give birth! These dinosaur thers have become endothermic to cope with the various differences in temperatures that can vary by wide margins. In doing so they can regulate their body temperatures and needn't depend on the sun to warm their blood, thereby making themselves vulnerable during basking. Their tails are long and whip-like for defense an make up half of their body length of thirty-five feet. In adapting to give birth to live young, they avoid the risk of egg theft and the trouble of incubating the eggs, which can prove difficult in such conditions. The males are red throated during mating season and wrestle one another by smacking each other with their thick, muscular necks.

Today the red throat of the Hadropelta has proved to be its downfall. A male has been attacked and killed early this morning. Then slowly emerging from the shadows, the killer reveals itself. It is a Daspletonathus meaning "frightful jaw', the apex predator of the forest. Weighing in at nine tons on average, growing twenty-nine feet in length and fourteen feet high at the shoulders, it is the largest predator of its world. Like its prey, it is endothermic, a descendent of the Carnosaurids of the Cretaceous, trading size for maximum hunting efficiency. Its jaws are laden with sixty serrated teeth similar to the Carnassial shear in arrangement enabling Daspletonathus to slash great chunks of flesh with ease. Its long front limbs are equipped with three taloned fingers and the muscular back limbs are stout and robust for great bursts of speed. The thirteen-foot tail balances the predator while it runs and is stiffened with rods of bone a characteristic of Dromaeosaurids. The robust neck of the Daspletonathus is covered in a mane much like that of a lion. The torso and much of the tail are streaked with short brown fur, leaving the limbs and face of the animals clean of hair. This is for much the same reason as that of a vulture's physiognomy - to prevent gore getting into the fur. The Daspletonathus settles downn to its hard-earned kill which it has trailed for days since inflicting a septic bite, the normal technique for downing such a big victim. The day proceeds swiftly as the Daspletonathus feasts, the horrid sounds of its gorging silence the forest for a moment but are soon drowned out by the forest symphony as dusk hovers overhead.

The night falls over the land and the sea. Tonight the high tide heralds a flurry of activity beneath the waves. Gigantic seventy-foot pliosaurs, who have evolved to feed off plankton, comb the waters with gaping mouths filtering tons of plankton through comb-like teeth. Further offshore, sharks forty feet long prowl the depths for giant squid which mate during this season. Corals come alive in their mating dance of sperm and eggs, which mingle and drift with the tides. Inland, the forest comes alive as the nocturnal inhabitants awake to roam. Daspletonathuses patrol the dark land always ready to pounce; the Sauropelta herd and retire together in enormous circles with their tails facing outwards to ward any would-be attackers, their vulnerable young huddled within the circle. Large eyed Troodons, the only animals not to have changed and certainly the most intelligent of the dinosaurs. loiter around the Sauropeltas. Small and fleet-footed they have found that by staying near these resting giants they gain protection from larger predators and so stay close to the giants. With highly developed saliva glands, they hunt small lizards and mammals by giving one lethal, venomous bites that attacks the nervous sytems and the brain.

Still within the depths of the forest lurk other beasts, shrouded in darkness just waiting for their chance to appear. With so many more species yet to be described, the New World is still one of mystery and intrigue. This journal has only revealed a small percentage of what inhabits this place; much is still unknown of the habits of these remarkable animals which have survived for the past hundred or so million years of the Earth's history. Their mastery of evolution is unmatched, enabling them to spread to every corner of the globe. Their story is one yet untold and still remains a puzzle; how did they manage to stay in power for so long when all others failed? Perhaps we shall never know.

The forest sinks deeper into the night and the surroundings echo with the song of cicadas and other creatures of the night. The night creatures echo their triumph over the land they have reclaimed. New sounds emerge as inhuman shrieks ring out followed by the low, resonant growls of some night predator casting a darker shadow over the land as the fight for survival continues deep into the night until a new day dawns...

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