Back to the Future

What makes a survivor? A new book takes a look at some of Earth’s oldest habitats and organisms. They reveal clues about the past.

November 04, 2011

Harvard University entomologist Piotr Naskrecki is out to discover ancient secrets. To uncover them, he has hiked the world’s oldest habitats. In his book Relics, Naskrecki describes organisms, or living things, that have remained nearly unchanged for millions of years.

“Ancient organisms often possess characteristics that make them the ultimate survivors,” Naskrecki told TFK. These plants and creatures offer clues about how life existed on Earth before humans were a part of its history.

Horseshoe crabs have crawled across beaches since before dinosaurs ruled. Lizards have perfected how to survive harsh climates. Insects such as katydids thrive in many types of habitats. How do they do it? Step into Naskrecki’s time machine for a look at a few of the world’s enduring organisms, and learn about their survival skills.


Horseshoe crabs have been around for so long because they eat almost anything; saltwater changes don’t bother them; and they can even survive out of the water for up to four days.


The Cape flat -lizard perfected its defense over time. When danger is near, the animal jams itself into a crack in a rock. Then it inflates its body so it can’t be removed.


The ancient creature called the tuatara has many survival tricks up its sleeve. Unlike lizards, tuataras live and hunt for food in areas with cool temperatures.


Not much -bothers cycads these days. But some scientists think the plants developed their spiky leaves millions of years ago, in response to dinosaurs eating them.


Generations of peacock katydids have hidden on the -forest floor, looking like dead leaves. If that doesn’t work, they flash their eye-like wings when a predator gets too close.

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