Making of a monster: ‘Cannibal the Animal’

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Mats E Eriksson (Sweden)

A hellish monstrosity of an animal – like a beastly entity taken straight out of your worst nightmare – has come to sculptural life. And it has Death Metal, primordial life and Alex Webster written all over it.

Fig. 1. The monster sculpture in progress, with its ‘daddy’ model maker Esben Horn, who also functions as a scale (Esben Horn is 1.85m tall). At this stage, the worm’s body has been roughly sculptured out of Styrofoam and, alongside, the huge jaws still await several adjustments. (Photo: Mats E Eriksson.)

Last year, a new gigantic fossil polychaete worm – Websteroprion armstrongi – was discovered and unveiled to the world (Eriksson et al. 2017). (I discuss this in my article: Worm monstrosity: A giant extinct worm.) The creature is an ancestor to the now-living, marine ‘Bobbit’ worms – ambush predators that hunt in stealth mode for octopuses and fish. The fossil species was discovered in 400 million years old rocks from the Devonian Period in Canada and was named in honour of mighty bass giant, Alex Webster, of Cannibal Corpse, Blotted Science and Conquering Dystopia.

Now, this primordial animal has come to ‘life’ by the skilled hands of prehistoric sculpture artist extraordinaire Esben Horn, at his company 10 Tons (see Eriksson, 2014) in Copenhagen, Denmark, and assisted by me, who was lead author of the scientific study presenting the species. Since I reported on the discovery of W. armstrongi in Issue 50 of Deposits (Worm monstrosity – a giant extinct worm), I thought it would be a good idea to make a brief follow-up story on this new sculpture and show some images of the impressive creation.

Websteroprion armstrongi possessed the largest jaws recorded from the entire fossil record of these worms, reaching over one centimetre in length, while usually being in the millimetre-size range. Investigation of the relationship between body and jaw size suggested to the authors that this animal achieved a total body length in excess of a metre, which is comparable to that of modern ‘giant eunicid’ worm species.

While this is certainly impressive, we figured, why settle with big when you can go mega? Hence, the sculptural reconstruction of the animal measures over two and a half meters in its majestic height and shows the anterior (head) portion of the beast, as if it was emerging from the seafloor, jaws spread wide apart and awaiting a passing prey to be dragged down below and devoured. The final result almost brings to mind something from the cult flick Tremors (1990), which happens to be a favourite film of Horn’s.

Fig. 2. Prototypes of the giant jaws. (Photo: Esben Horn.)

The jaws of the giant sculpture were modelled after the actual fossils and sculptured out of polyurethane foam, covered by a layer of glass fibre-reinforced acrylic gypsum. The outermost layer was modelled in ‘Rasmonite’ (an acrylic gypsum gooey substance modified by Rasmus Frederiksen of 10 Tons), which turns rock-solid upon hardening, and finally painted. The body of this ‘Cannibal animal’ (not that it probably ate members of its own species – I just like the name) was modelled after those of now-living relatives (as no fossilised soft tissue has been found) and carved out of Styrofoam and onto which a black leather dress was tightly fitted. In addition to giving the sculpture a unique and cool look, it certainly adds to the metal connotation of the species’ name and to metal aesthetics in general. The beast strikes me as a sharply-dressed, evil queen worm ready for a night out of serious prey ambushing.

Fig. 3. The sculpture was a collaborative effort by artist, Esben Horn (left), who took care of all artistic aspects, and the author, who mainly acted as a scientific advisor and design playmate. (Photo: Magnus Eriksson.)

The new worm monstrosity will be a centrepiece at the hugely successful travelling exhibition Rock Fossils. This exhibition, which is organised by an international group of scientists and artists, Jesper Milàn (DK), Esben Horn (DK), Rune Fjord (DK), Achim G. Reisdorf (DE) and me, portrays fossils named after rock stars and tells the stories behind the discoveries, rock stars, the scientists involved and, of course, the primordial organisms. The Websteroprion sculpture will be shown to the public for the first time when the exhibition re-opens on 7 June 2018 in Luxembourg.

When looking at Horn’s ‘big ass, bad ass’ W. armstrongi sculpture, one could easily imagine several scenarios that fit classic Cannibal Corpse tunes, like ‘Devoured by vermin’, ‘Worm infested’, ‘The Wretched Spawn’ and ‘Bloodthirst’. While we are at it, why not also throw in (fellow American Death Metal band) Obituary’s ‘Chopped in half’.  The match between the animal and Death Metal aesthetics is certainly one made in heaven … or rather perhaps hell.

Fig. 4. The final sculpture in all its glory, sporting its slick black leather dress. (Photo: Esben Horn.)

About the author

Mats E Eriksson is a professor of palaeontology at the Department of Geology at Lund University in Sweden. He primarily works on Palaeozoic microfossils and tries to reconstruct and understand ancient organisms and ecosystems. Besides research and teaching, Mats has a deep interest in scientific outreach and adores it when different disciplines – such as science, arts and music – amalgamate.


Eriksson, M.E. 2014. Master of Puppets: sculpting ancient worlds. Geology Today 30, 98–104.

Eriksson, M.E., Parry, L. & Rudkin, D.M. 2017. Earth’s oldest ‘Bobbit worm’ – gigantism in a Devonian eunicidan polychaete. Scientific Reports 7, 43061; doi:10.1038/srep43061.

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