Prehistory | Part 1

This post is going to go over some of the lesser known terrestrial prehistoric creatures (aquatic creatures will be covered in a future post). Prepare yourself!

 

Giant Ripper Lizard 

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Komodo dragons are one of my favourite animals: there’s just something about them that intrigues me. You can imagine my delight when I came across Megalania. 

I would totally ride this thing into battle.

Megalania, or the giant ripper lizard as it is commonly known, looks just like a super-sized komodo dragon. And I really do mean super-sized. Megalania grew up to 7 metres long and reached a maximum weight of 620 kg (where modern-day komodo dragons grow to about 2.6 m and weigh 70-90 kg). If that isn’t enough to make you run the other way, it was armed with razor-sharp serrated teeth and is thought to be venomous. This thing was a walking weapon.

With these features, it’s no surprise that Megalania was able to hunt equally-as-gigantic prey. It is known to have preyed on rhinoceros-sized marsupials. Yes, rhinoceros-sized. Australia, huh? Even in prehistoric times everything was out to kill.

**Below is a rather long documentary about the Giant Ripper Lizard with some CGI that will help you appreciate its immense bulk.

The scary thing is that Megalania actually coexisted with humans, and it’s likely that we would have made a nice tasty (albeit bite-sized) snack for them before they went extinct. On the other hand, there are some in Australia who claim that this lizard still roams today…

 

Arthropleura

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People who don’t like things with more than four legs should perhaps skip this one, because I guarantee it will make you cringe.

You know that feeling when you think you feel an insect crawling up your leg? That split-second moment of panic and accompanying wild hand-swat? We’ve all been there. But just imagine if you lived in the Carboniferous. You’re walking along, all innocent-like, then-

Yeah, it’s not a phantom itch you’d feel against your leg.

Arthropleura was an ancestor to all modern-day centipedes and millipedes. It grew up to 2.4 metres in length (!) and was often up to a metre wide. Its massive size could have been attributed to elevated levels of oxygen (see my previous post), and guaranteed that no one messed with it. It didn’t have many predators, if any.

So what did this thing eat? Well, despite its size and fearsome appearance, its only victim was plants. Yes, Arthropleura was entirely herbivorous. Thank goodness, I say.

 

Quetzalcoatlus

Screenshot_7Quetzalcoatlus was a pterosaur, which many people are quite familiar with thanks to Jurassic Park. It was large like most other things from the Cretaceous period, with a wingspan of around 10 metres in length. That’s about as big as a small plane.
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© Vibhuti Patel

 They were however very oddly proportioned, with ridiculously long legs, necks and beaks, and a body size which seemed like it would require even larger wings for sustained flight. For this reason, it is likely that Quetzalcoatlus did not hunt in the air but rather walked along the ground – using their wings as forelimbs – looking for animals to swallow whole. In fact, when standing upright, it looked like some kind of creepy bloodthirsty bird-giraffe.

 Just imagine that plucking you off the ground.

 

 Paraceratherium

Screenshot_4Paraceratherium is, in short, the largest terrestrial mammal to have ever lived. It is a type of ancestral, hornless rhinoceros with some horse in there, and it grew to about 5 metres high. It was even larger than the T-rex, although they would never have met since Paraceratherium lived during the Oligocene (Cenozoic).

…Hmm, maybe I’ll ride this one into battle instead. (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anauxite/4790991997/)

Paraceratherium‘s great height meant it had V.I.P access to the tastiest leaves from the tree-tops. And with no predators able to even think about taking it on, it lived long and prospered. That is until they went extinct – the reasons for this are unknown but it’s speculated that the ancestors of  elephants may have been to blame, by starving them out.

 

Longisquama

Screenshot_5I included this one in my post simply because it looks strange. And also because it’s a reptile and I love reptiles.

Longisquama has been the subject of huge and ongoing scientific debate, regarding what those elongated scales are actually for.

Many scientists have suggested that they are primitive feathers, effectively making Longisquama close relative of birds. Others argue that the scales evolved independently and that the lizard has no relation to birds. Despite these differing opinions, it is accepted that Longisquama was a glider. Woosh!

 

Elasmotherium

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 Elasmotherium was a huge woolly ancestral rhinoceros. It reached a maximum weight of seven tonnes – matching the formidable T-rex – and its long legs allowed it to gallop at very high speeds.
A beast of this bulk charging towards you would have been terrifying enough, but it also sported a horn that reached up to two metres long. Crap.

Interestingly, it’s thought that Elasmotherium was the inspiration behind the very first unicorn stories. I wholeheartedly support this.

 

Terror bird

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So everything about this one is pretty much in the name. Terror birds, or Phorusrhacids, are a group of (thankfully) extinct, large carnivorous birds.

So, modern-day flightless birds are pretty harmless right? You have penguins who may flipper-slap you, and ostriches who may kick you if you get on their bad side, but for the most part they won’t hurt you unless you annoy them. Not so with the terror bird. This thing very much lived up to its namesake – it was a terror.

They were the largest species of apex predators in South America of their time, and grew to a maximum height of 3 metres. That’s almost twice the height of the average human.

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© Vibhuti Patel

Scientists are unsure if the Terror Bird would have actually hunted humans, seeing as it’s from a different time period. But we do know that they ate mammals (including ancestral horses, camels and canines) and killed them by one of two ways:

1) picking them up with their beaks and slamming them hard on the ground, and

2) striking critical body parts with precision that would put a sniper to shame.

And with a head that’s a metre long, the unlucky prey that met this bird would be as good as dead.

 

Dire wolf

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Yes, dire wolves were a real thing. Launched into popular culture by the George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (read the books, people),  dire wolves are possibly the heaviest canine that ever existed, and reached the height of an average human’s waist.

They did pretty well with the sizing in the show. (source: HBO's Game of Thrones)

They did pretty well with the sizing in the show. (source: HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series)

Despite its bulk, the dire wolf was known to have quite a small brain, smaller – in fact – than that of the grey wolf, its closest living relative. This has given rise to scientific speculation that the dire wolf was either:

– less of a hunter and more of a scavenger, or

– hunted via ambush rather than chasing down its prey over long distances.

Remains of the dire wolf have been found among those of Smilodon (the saber-toothed cat – more information here!), in what is now Los Angeles. This puts some awesome imagery in my head.

Smilodon vs Canis dirus.  Source:

Smilodon vs Canis dirus.
(source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/38/Smilodon_and_Canis_dirus.jpg)

Featured image depicts Elasmotherium, and is sourced from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elasm062.jpg

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