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"Where else on Earth do centipedes eat dinosaurs?" - Spring expedition, 1937

The tangled jungles of Skull Island are, without doubt, the most impressive forest complexes on the planet. Gnarled trees the size of skyscrapers erupt in knotted root jumbles from the broken, volcanic earth. Entire ecosystems exist within the great arms of single trees, with unique species coddled among their leaves and vines. Undergrowth, taller and denser than full-sized trees elsewhere in the world, choke the sodden ground hundreds of feet below the light-gobbling canopy. Snakelike vines and strangling creepers crisscross, struggling with one another in a slow fight for light and water. Fungi the size of armchairs jut from sponge-damp wood to vomit clouds of toxic spores into the sodden air, and thick seas of rotting leaves pooled between buttress roots, several feet deep in places and writhing with arm-thick centipedes and luminous slugs.

Understanding where one species stops and another begins is a task in the green melee. All kinds of organisms (plants, animals, or something in between) twist around and through each other in a savage dance for survival. This is an extreme environment that rewards adaptations in its inhabitants. The fight to survive fashions many bizarre lifeforms, some prehistoric holdovers, and others skewed versions of recognizable modern species.

The jungle sweats in an everlasting twilight. Leafy branches, high above, steal light before it can filter to the forest floor, rendering a world in muted green during the day. At night cool moonlight is echoed in luminous pools by light-emitting vertebrates calling insects to their doom. The creatures of the jungle learn to use this darkness to their advantage, concealing themselves in its protective embrace or developing means to pierce the unrelenting gloom.

In the battle for water, light, and food, each has its own card to play. Plants defend themselves with toxins, only to be eaten by animals with immunity. Prey hides beneath camouflage, only to be detected by a hunter’s heat-sensitive organs. Scaly armor meets bladed claws. Sharpened teeth crash on hardened horn. Lapping tongues recoil from poison. Nature is at war with itself and revels in its own innovations.

The humid jungle of the island recalls the ancient Cretaceous, and perhaps this is why so many of its denizens descend from both that period and the rest of the Mesozoic era. In the hot, wet dark of the jungle, dinosaurs and their prehistoric kin are protected from the passage of time and forces of change that destroyed them elsewhere else. Here they flourish, evolving to new extremes in their green bower.

This is truly a garden of titans.

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