If they were alive today they would probably have made terrible pets, but you may well have had some of them in a home aquarium. Like sponges in modern aquariums, the likes of Charnia and Charniodiscus might have featured in the odd fish tank, absorbing nutrients and sitting around looking pretty. Most Ediacarans depended on the slimy microbial mats in some way or another, whether they grazed on it or lived within, beneath or on it. And over all the Ediacarans were not a very mobile bunch. As fossils, however, they are hugely important in helping us to understand the evolutionary history of animals (and in helping us to admit to how little we know). Some of them are recognisable to any fossil-nerd worth their salt. Last year I invested in casts of some familiar Ediacaran beasties from a company called GeoEd, which makes replicas of thousands of important specimens:
I opted for some of the most recognisable taxa, as you can see I bought Charniodiscus, Charnia, Spriggina, Dickinsonia and Parvancorina. I have not been disappointed and would thoroughly recommend buying some from there if you, like me, are interested in the Ediacaran. The prices are very good, but do note that they don’t include shipping costs – those come after you complete your purchase.
The only issue I have with them is that the information can be outdated. For starters, the Ediacaran period fossils are listed as Vendian, a term which you will find in a lot of older texts about the period. I recently bought a cast of Charnia as a gift for my friend Dean Lomax and noticed that the little informative label on the back listed it as a Pennatulacean (a sea pen) despite that this interpretation was rejected scientifically by Antcliffe and Brasier (2006) who noted that sea pens grew by adding polyps to the bottom of the frond, whilst Charnia grew by adding segments to the tip. (I also hadn’t noticed that the descriptions on the website mentioned whether they were in positive or negative relief – the pictures are misleading – so pay careful attention if this matters to you.) Here’s the one I bought for Dean, the image pinched from his Facebook, and as you can see it is a very well made cast:
Many key Ediacaran specimens can not be collected, particularly those from Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, so this is your only way to get your hands on them. Casts are extremely useful for studying such unique specimens and on top of that can make excellent ornaments for the enthusiast.
If anyone knows of any other good sites offering Ediacaran casts please let me know in the comments, I’d love to get my hands on some more and can do a comparison and a bit of advertising.