Hallucigenia aarnii is a hybrid species designed to reexamine our relationship to the natural world.
A thought-provoking object that inhabits both tangible physical spaces and virtual immersive environments.

Charles Walcott

Charles Walcott at Fossil Quarry, Burgess Pass, 1911 or 1912. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Header: Hallucigenia sparsa. Complete specimen, head to the right. Walcott Quarry.
Royal Ontario Museum.

The History of Nature

We need symbols to represent a diversity that we cannot fully carry in our heads. If one creature must be selected to bear the message of the Burgess Shale -the stunning disparity and uniqueness of anatomy generated so early and so quickly in the history of modern multicellular life- the overwhelming choice among aficionados would surely by Hallucigenia.

Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the History of Nature, 1989.

The Cambrian Alien

Named for its ‘bizarre and dream-like’ appearance, Hallucigenia was a ocean dweller that lived during the Cambrian Period, around 508 million years ago. It belonged to a family of organisms known as lobopodians, a grade of Paleozoic panarthropods which later gave rise to velvet worms, tardigrades and arthropods. Fossils of this strange-looking creature have been found in Canada, China, and other locations worldwide.

Hallucigenia aarnii
Hallucigenia aarnii

Hallucigenia was one of the earliest organisms in the earth’s prehistoric ocean, when complex, multicellular life was starting to populate the Earth. At least three species have been identified in the genus with slight differences in their appearance.

Inspired by this fascinating creature, Carlos Alonso Pascual has designed Hallucigenia aarnii, a new hybrid species to help us rethink our place in the history of life on earth. With one third of our planet's ecosystems degraded and having crossed numerous planetary boundaries, we urgently need new scenarios and new objects to drive social and ecological change to move towards a regenerated Earth.

The alien world

For all the uncertainties surrounding Hallucigenia, we can be sure it lived in a world very different to the one we know today. If you travelled back over 500 million years, the planet and the animals which inhabited it would have looked completely alien to us.

Ben Garrod, Extinct Hallucigenia, 2021.


Hallucigenia was originally described by Charles Doolittle Walcott as a species of a polychaete worm. In his 1977 redescription of the organism, British paleontologist Simon Conway Morris recognized the animal as something quite distinct. No specimen was available that showed both rows of legs, so Conway Morris reconstructed the animal walking on its spines, with its legs interpreted as tentacles on the animal's back. Its characteristics were so strange that some researchers even considered that the fossil could be the appendage of a larger animal.

Hallucigenia sparsa

Hallucigenia, supported by its seven pairs of struts, stands on the sea floor. Reconstruction by Simon Conway Morris. Drawn by Marianne Collins.

Hallucigenia aarnii

In 1991, Lars Ramskold and Hou Xianguang, working with additional specimens found at the Chengjiang site in China, postulated that the supposed dorsal tentacles were the animal's legs. In fact, this linked Hallucigenia to a group of living invertebrates with similar limbs, the onychophorans. With this new way of looking at the animal, the spines, first considered legs, became dorsal structures that probably protected the animal from predators. This second interpretation was confirmed in 2015 by studying the Hallucigenia fossils by high-resolution electron microscopy.

Hallucigenia aarnii
Hallucigenia aarnii

The supernatural aspect of Hallucigenia has made it very difficult to link it to modern animal groups and find its home in the tree of life. This enigmatic creature shows that we must be aware of the cognitive biases that prevent us from reexamining the way we look at the natural world. Moreover, observing the world and observing ourselves are not opposites; by observing nature, we can come to see ourselves more clearly.

Hallucigenia aarnii
Hallucigenia aarnii

One of the traits we discover in contemplating ourselves is an affinity for the world around us. The desire to understand and enjoy the rest of the community of life is part of our humanity.

The epithet aarnii of this thought-provoking object pays homage to the renowned Finnish designer Eero Aarnio.

Hallucigenia aarnii Hallucigenia aarnii: Dimensions

The Landing Area

It's a spaceship landing area here

Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.
Hallucigenia aarnii

Everything is Connected

Biodiversity is the living fabric of our planet. It underpins human wellbeing in the present and in the future, and its rapid decline threatens nature and people alike.

We still have a chance to make a collective change, starting with our outlook towards our surroundings. The existence of our planet is a miracle, and we should preserve this for future generations.

Hallucigenia aarnii

#design #hybridreality #sensemaking #nature #naturalhistory #biophilia #inspiredbynature #bioinspiration #biomimicry #liminality #liminalobjects #cambrian #alien #NFT #NFTProject

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