1747: Spider Paleontology
Title text: Whenever you see a video of birds doing something weird, remember: Birds are a small subset of dinosaurs, so the weirdness of birds is a small subset of the weirdness of dinosaurs.
This Monday comic was the first in a series that continued in the next Wednesday release 1748: Future Archaeology.
A time-traveler (the black floating energy Sphere) visits present day from the far future. Spiders are the Spheres civilization's current craze, just as dinosaurs are currently our craze. The Jurassic Park media franchise began with the first film in 1993 and the year before the release of this comic (in 2015) the fourth movie Jurassic World were released with at least one more film in development. And we also have theme parks and kids dressing up as dinosaurs.
It arrives in the presence of Megan and Cueball and tels them who it is and why it is here, to see spiders. Megan points it towards a spider sitting in it's web and the Sphere is awestruck to see the object of its obsession in the living flesh. Since spider webs don't fossilize, the Sphere is surprised to see the spider in a web. There was no possible hint of spiderwebs in the fossil record, from which the Sphere gathered all its knowledge.
We, with our current knowledge, know that webs are an essential part of a spiders life. Making sense of a spiders life is practically impossible without including their webs. However, the future-people have done so until now; discovering how wrong they are is bound to become an intense experience for them.
It is unclear what the Sphere is. Since it states that the spiders they know of is from fossils from your planet, it seems likely that the Sphere is neither human nor from our planet. So most likely they are a space traveling species. Hence it seems unlikely that they are humans. The appearance as a sphere may either be an indication that they did not travel in person but rather only looks out at the past through the energy sphere, or it may be that these aliens are actually spheres, floating as energized objects in space. In that case this is an actual alien floating in front of Megan and Cueball. The Spheres civilization did already have the spider craze before they invented time travel. It seems like the first the Sphere decided to use time travel for was to go back to see real spiders on Earth. This also tels us that they are from so far into the future that there are no spiders left. Of course with climate changes etc. going on, that may not necessarily be too far into the future. As long as the human race (or knowledge of spiders) has also disappeared from Earth. But since the Sphere it self tells us that it comes from a distant future, the setting is not related to how fast humans and spiders becomes extinct.
Megan immediately connects the fact that the Sphere did not even know about spiderweb to our current understanding of dinosaurs: If a future civilization think they understand spiders based on fossil, while missing something as essential (but non-fossilizing) as their web, what are the human civilization missing about dinosaurs? Cueball quickly catches on, and both ask if they can borrow the time-machine to experience their own revelations about dinosaurs just like the revelation the Sphere has just had about spiders.
The title text calls back to one of Randall's favorite facts (see 1211: Birds and Dinosaurs) - that birds are technically part of the clade Dinosauria. Birds do lots of weird stuff - like starlings flocking, the dances of birds of paradise, lyrebird mimicry or petrels puking stomach oil. Randall says that for every time a birds does something weird then it is likely that dinosaurs would have had equally strange behaviors, and birds are only a small subset of all dinosaurs. So there would have been even more strange behaviors among the dinosaurs than among the present days birds. It is, however, basically impossible to tell from the fossil record. All we know is that dinosaurs had features such as display feathers, neck frills, and crests which likely played a role in mating and territorial shows.
This is the second comic with special mentioning of a science related directly to spiders, the first being 1135: Arachnoneurology.
- [A seven-panel comic featuring Cueball, Megan, and a time-traveler from the distant future, possibly from somewhere other than Earth. The time-traveler is depicted as a solid, floating black dot surrounded by six outwardly-curved segments, surrounded by small dots. In the second panel, the depiction is slightly different.]
- [The time-traveler floats on the left facing Megan who is in the center facing left. Cueball is to Megan's right and also facing left.]
- Time-traveler: I'm here from the distant future!
- Megan: Cool! What for?
- Time-traveler: Spiders!
- [A close-up of the time-traveler, depicted as a diffuse black smudge surrounded by seven narrow rays with irregular dots between the rays.]
- Time-traveler: We've learned about your planet's spiders from fossils.
- Time-traveler: There's a whole spider craze. We have spider theme parks, spider movies, spider costumes...
- Time-traveler: Such beautiful animals!
- Megan (off-panel): I guess...
- [Back to the time-traveler, Megan and Cueball as shown before. Megan is gesturing left, past the time-traveler.]
- Time-traveler: Now we've got time travel, so I'm here to see one for myself!
- Megan: Sure! There's one over there!
- [The time-traveler floats over a leafless plant. A spider web is strung between the border of the left panel and the leafless plant. A spider is in the center of the web.]
- Time-traveler: Woowwww!
- Time-traveler: What's that giant net it's caught in?
- Megan (off-panel): You mean its web?
- Time-traveler: Its what?
- [Back to a scene similar to the first, depicting the time traveler, Megan and Cueball]
- Megan: Oh, right, fossils. So you wouldn't know about...
- [In a frame-less panel only Megan is shown facing left.]
- Megan: ...
- [Again a scene similar to the first.]
- Megan: Oh my God. Dinosaurs must have been so weird.
- Cueball: Holy crap, yeah.
- Megan: Listen, can we borrow your time machine?
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