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RE: why 'Martians' should be bipeds (some WoW spoiler), with marginal paleontological connection



> From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
> david peters
>
> Don't read further if you haven't seen and want to see War of the Worlds.
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spoiler space
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> Still, the special effects are breath-taking. Not sure what the red roots 
> were all about, nor all the red fluids.

Haven't seen the movie yet, but am a LONG time fan of the book.  And Jeff 
Wayne's musical version, which is the most faithful
adaptation so far, even if it is a rock opera.

In any case, some paleontological/evolutionary biology aspects of H.G. Wells' 
War of the Worlds (e-text
http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/www/warworlds/warw.html among other places):

*Wells himself was a student of Thomas Henry Huxley, and had a great background 
in evolutionary biology and paleontology. This comes
out in several stories (The Time Machine and the War of the Worlds, for two 
prominent ones).

*Wells' Martians look superfically like cephalopods. However, the narrator of 
the novel points out that they might indeed be the
descendants of humanoids (in Book II, chapter 2). He mentions an essay written 
by a "certain speculative writer of quasi-scientific
repute" (e.g., H.G. himself!!) a few years earlier on natural selection in 
technological people. Specifically, he suggested:
"the perfection of mechanical appliances must ultimately supersede limbs; the 
perfection of chemical devices, digestion; that such
organs as hair, external nose, teeth, ears, and chin were no longer essential 
parts of the human being, and that the tendency of
natural selection would lie in the direction of their steady diminution through 
the coming ages. The brain alone remained a cardinal
necessity. Only one other part of the body had a strong case for survival, and 
that was the hand, "teacher and agent of the brain."
While the rest of the body dwindled, the hands would grow larger."

and

"To me it is quite credible that the Martians may be descended from beings not 
unlike ourselves, by a gradual development of brain
and hands (the latter giving rise to the two bunches of delicate tentacles at 
last) at the expense of the rest of the body. Without
the body the brain would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence, 
without any of the emotional substratum of the human being.

The last salient point in which the systems of these creatures differed from 
ours was in what one might have thought a very trivial
particular. Micro-organisms, which cause so much disease and pain on earth, 
have either never appeared upon Mars or Martian sanitary
science eliminated them ages ago. A hundred diseases, all the fevers and 
contagions of human life, consumption, cancers, tumours and
such morbidities, never enter the scheme of their life."

Incidentally, the Martian ecosystem retains a primitive hominoid-like organism 
(with a siliceous skeleton!) that the other Martians
use for food. Thus, Earth looked to them as a planet populated by pseudo-cows 
might look to a bunch of humans.

As for the red roots: that's the "Red Weed", the native plants of Mars. In the 
novel they never figure out if the Martians brought
it intentionally or by accident. (Fans of Alan Moore's graphic novel League of 
Extraordinary Gentlemen know that it was deliberatly
introduced as an anti-submarine weapon, but that's a different story...)

Incidentally, as Wells was writing long before sulfa drugs, penicillin, and the 
other "wonder drug" antibiotics were discovered, it
was perfectly reasonable at the time to assume that a bunch of critters 
previously unexposed to bacteria might have no defense of
any sort against them. So they came to Earth, breathed our germ-laden air, 
drank our germ-laden bodily fluids, and it was "Ulla"
time...

Take care,

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
        Mailing Address:
                Building 237, Room 1117
                College Park, MD  20742

http://www.geol.umd.edu/~tholtz/
http://www.geol.umd.edu/~jmerck/eltsite
Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796