bait in the wolf trap (petitfour) wrote in wtf_nature,
bait in the wolf trap
petitfour
wtf_nature

ancient mammals

One of the best things about having a high school biology teacher for a boyfriend is that they get to hook in to this network where you can download like every wacky nature special ever for free. So we usually spend our Saturday nights ordering in Chinese food and "quality testing" all of the shows. So we saw "Walking with Prehistoric Beasts" this past weekend, and I knew I had to share.

Dang, everything was absolutely massive back then. If I saw a herbivore the size of a house grazing out in my backyard I would have freaked. From the Discovery Channel's website:



Macrauchenia

Imagine a creature that looks like a horse, with a camel's fur and a long, muscular nose the size of a boot. This bizarre-looking animal is a member of a group of now-extinct mammals called litopterns, which have only been found in South America. No one knows how they are related to other mammals; until more fossils are found, they are assumed to be distant relatives of our familiar hoofed animals.

PRONUNCIATION: MAK-RAW-KEE-NEE-AH
LIVED: 7 million — 20,000 years ago
SIZE: 5 feet at the shoulder
FACT: Herbivorous, browsing on trees
MEANING: Long llama (Long llama is loooooooong. Sorry, it had to be done.)
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: None, died out
RANGE: South America





Woolly Rhino

The horns of the woolly rhino were often found in Russia during the 19th century, but because they are so strange-looking, many people believed that they were the claws of giant birds. Wear marks on their flat, plank-like horns suggest that the rhinos used them to clear snow from the ground.

PRONUNCIATION: WOOL-EE-RY-NO
LIVED: 500,000 — 10,000 years ago
SIZE: 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder
FACT: Herbivorous, grazing grass
MEANING: Named after its long hair
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Sumatran Rhino
RANGE: Europe



Dinofelis

There were several species of this saber-toothed cat across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. It was similar in build to a modern jaguar, with more powerful front legs — which means that it probably ambushed its prey and used its front legs to hold the prey down while it made a clean kill with its teeth.

PRONUNCIATION: DY-NO-FEE-LIS
LIVED: 5 – 1.4 million years ago
SIZE: 2.3 feet tall at the shoulder
FACT: Carnivorous, feeding on antelope, baboons and our distant ancestors, australopithecines
MEANING: Terrible cat
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Modern cats
RANGE: Africa, North America, Asia and Europe



Dorudon

Related to Basilosaurus, but shorter and more compact, this fast swimmer resembled the modern dolphin, but wasn't nearly as intelligent. Armed with ferocious teeth, Dorudon also boasted rear limbs only about 4 inches long. (Eeep! Little stump feet!)

PRONUNCIATION: DOR-OO-DON
LIVED: 40 – 36 million years ago
SIZE: 16.4 feet long
FACT: Carnivorous, consuming small fish and mollusks
MEANING: Spear-toothed
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Whales
RANGE: North Africa and North America



Indricotherium

These ancient members of the rhinoceros family are the largest land mammals in Earth's history. Over twice the height of an elephant and eight times the size of modern rhinos, Indricotherium browsed on the leaves of tall trees. Because an adult was the size of a house, it was invulnerable to attack.

PRONUNCIATION: IN-DRIK-OH-THEER-EE-UM
LIVED: 30 – 25 million years ago
SIZE: 20 to 23 feet tall (15 feet at shoulder) (holy crap)
FACT: Herbivorous, browsing on upper branches of deciduous trees
MEANING: Indrik beast (the Indrik is a mythological animal)
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Rhinos
RANGE: Asia



Entelodont (aka fucking scary ancient bacon)

A cross between a pig and a tank, standing fully 7 feet tall and with a brain the size of a fist, entelodonts are cousins to modern pigs and other hoofed animals. Many of their skulls show evidence of severe wounds that could only have been inflicted by other entelodonts during fights. The bony lumps all over their faces probably evolved to protect delicate areas during an attack.

PRONUNCIATION: EN-TELL-OH-DONT
LIVED: 45 – 25 million years ago
SIZE: 7 feet at the shoulder
FACT: Omnivorous, eating mostly scavenged carcasses
MEANING: Perfect-toothed
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Pigs and other hoofed animals
RANGE: Asia and North America



Moeritherium

Thirty-six million years ago there were already several members of the elephant family. This creature, which looked like a bizarre aquatic pig the size of a refrigerator, represents a split from the main elephant line. It's thought to have adopted a hippo-like lifestyle, browsing aquatic vegetation.

PRONUNCIATION: MEE-RI-THEER-EE-UM
LIVED: 36 – 33 million years ago
SIZE: 4 feet high and 6.5 feet long
FACT: Herbivorous, consuming sea grass and floating/waterside vegetation
MEANING: Moeris beast (after Lake Moeris, where the first fossils were found)
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Elephants
RANGE: North Africa



Ancylotherium

These animals were built like large goats, designed to reach up and browse vegetation studding the plains of Africa. They are thought to have become extinct only a couple of million years ago.

PRONUNCIATION: AN-SY-LOH-THEER-EE-UM
LIVED: 6.5 – 2 million years ago
SIZE: 6.5 feet tall at shoulder
FACT: Herbivorous, browsing vegetation
MEANING: Hooked beast
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Died out, but distantly related to rhinos, tapirs and horses
RANGE: Europe, East Asia and Africa



Ambulocetus

Although its strong limbs were able to support it both on land and at sea, Ambulocetus lived principally in the water. Swimming like an otter but killing like a crocodile, it lurked patiently at the water's edge, suddenly ambushing its often sizable prey before dragging it into the water to be drowned.

PRONUNCIATION: AM-BYU-LO-SEE-TUS
LIVED: 50 – 49 million years ago
SIZE: 9.8 feet long
FACT: Carnivorous, eating large animals
MEANING: Walking whale
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Whales
RANGE: Asia



Andrewsarchus

A rhino-sized, wolf-like carnivore, Andrewsarchus is actually a relative of our familiar hoofed animals and a distant relative of the early whale, Basilosaurus. Its fossils are usually found around water, and as single specimens, so it seems that these animals might have been solitary scavengers along riverbanks and tide lines.

PRONUNCIATION: AND-ROOZ-ARK-US
LIVED: 60 – 32 million years ago
SIZE: 6 feet tall and 16 feet long, with a skull around 33 inches long
FACT: Weighed more than a car, and stretched the length of two
MEANING: Andrews' beast (after paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, the role model for Indiana Jones)
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Whales and hoofed animals (Amazing!)
RANGE: Eastern Asia



Basilosaurus

With a skull as long as a sofa (Don't you love these descriptions? Like you'd really want to sit on it or something.) and a total body length equivalent to that of three elephants, this early whale was at the top of the underwater food chain. To maintain its incredible weight — it was as heavy as two tanks — Basilosaurus was an eating machine that could swallow sharks whole. Fossils also show a reminder of its land-animal ancestors: a pair of tiny back legs.

PRONUNCIATION: BASS-IL-OH-SAWR-US
LIVED: 40 – 36 million years ago
SIZE: 66 feet long
FACT: Carnivorous, feeding on fish, sharks, mollusks and cetaceans
MEANING: King lizard
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Whales
RANGE: North America and North Africa



Gastornis

A successful and ferocious descendant of the dinosaurs, Gastornis was one of the largest animals of its time: a meat-eating bird as tall as a grown man. While it has been the subject of some debate, the latest research suggests Gastornis used its enormous beak to kill prey, gripping an animal in its beak to paralyze it and then shaking its head to break the prey's spine.

PRONUNCIATION: GAS-TOR-NIS
LIVED: 56 – 41 million years ago
SIZE: 5.7 feet tall
FACT: Carnivorous, either hunting or scavenging
MEANING: Named after Gaston Planté, who found the first remains
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Birds
RANGE: Europe



Leptictidium

These strange hopping animals, resembling a cross between a shrew and a large cat, are part of a group that survived the great extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. They became extinct themselves once the lush tropical forests started to disappear about 40 million years ago.

PRONUNCIATION: LEP-TIK-TID-EE-UM
LIVED: 50 – 40 million years ago
SIZE: 35 inches long, including the tail
FACT: Carnivorous, consuming small lizards, small mammals and invertebrates
MEANING: Delicate weasel
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: None; died out
RANGE: Europe



Megaloceros

Often confusingly called the "Irish elk," this creature — found across Europe — is technically a deer. Its huge antlers were once thought to have been its downfall; the thinking was that they could have grown so large that either the animal could no longer lift its head or they'd become entangled between trees. Now, though, Megaloceros is thought to have been the victim of sudden climatic changes.

PRONUNCIATION: MEG-AH-LOSS-ER-OS
LIVED: 400,000 – 9,500 years ago
SIZE: 7 feet tall at the shoulder
FACT: Herbivorous, feeding on grass and vegetation
MEANING: Giant antler
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Fallow deer
RANGE: Europe, North Africa and Asia



Propalaeotherium

These small, cat-sized forest animals are among the earliest known horses. They had four toes on each of their front feet and three on each of their back feet, and they walked on pads, like dogs.

PRONUNCIATION: PRO-PAY-LEE-OH-THEE-REE-UM
LIVED: 49 – 43 million years ago
SIZE: Two species: 12 to 14 inches or 22 to 24 inches at the shoulder
FACT: Herbivorous, browsing leaves and fallen fruit
MEANING: Before Palaeotherium
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Horses (Eeeehehehehe tiny horse!)
RANGE: Europe



Megatherium

This bear-like creature was so big it could rest its chin on top of a double-decker bus; its shaggy hair hid skin as tough as chain mail, and its claws were the size of daggers. These claws meant that it could not put its feet flat on the ground and so, like a modern anteater, it had to walk on the sides of its feet. Even more extraordinary, its footprints show that it walked mainly on its hind legs.

PRONUNCIATION: MEG-AH-THEER-EE-UM
LIVED: 1.9 million – 8,000 years ago
SIZE: Up to 20 feet long
FACT: Herbivorous, eating vegetation and possibly scavenging meat
MEANING: Giant beast
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Tree sloths
RANGE: North and South America



Doedicurus

Doedicurus was a glyptodont, related to both living armadillos and sloths and anteaters. The size of a small car, with an armored carapace and spiked tail of solid bone, it grazed the grasslands of South America. Its tail was a vicious weapon, probably used for clobbering predators or other Doedicurus.

PRONUNCIATION: DEE-DIK-YOO-RUS
LIVED: 2 million – 15,000 years ago
SIZE: 5 feet tall and 13 feet long
FACT: Herbivorous, grazing on vegetation
MEANING: Pestle tail
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: Armadillos
RANGE: South America



Hyaenodon

These animals were very successful predators from a group known as creodonts. Their skulls show that they had incredibly strong jaws, and the males show grinding marks on their teeth very much like those of modern animals that use the noise of grinding teeth as an intimidation display.

PRONUNCIATION: HI-EE-NOH-DON
LIVED: 41 – 25 million years ago
SIZE: 4.6 feet tall at the shoulder and 10 feet long, plus tail
FACT: Carnivorous, with crushing jaws
MEANING: Hyena-toothed
CLOSEST LIVING RELATIVE: None; died out
RANGE: Asia and North America



It is seriously a good thing that our ancestors didn't show up sooner with these sloths the size of buses wandering around. I don't care if it eats plants and only sometimes meat, I would have shit myself. EDIT: I looked at the dates again and it appears that our ancestors were in fact around at the same time as said sloths. Commence pants-shittery.

It's pretty amazing though how even mammals benefited from the temperatures and had to shrink up so much as time went on in order to be evolutionarily successful.
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