There is something inherently interesting, scary, and, dare I say, sexy about extinct species. Seeing how they no longer exist, it’s pretty dang hard to study their biology and their behavior. They’re sort of like that crush you were never able to work up the courage to approach; you can only guess, theorize, estimate, and extrapolate their potential, ahem, behavior based on observations with…err…species which you can and have directly…observed.
The sexiest of the extinct animals are of course the dinosaurs. Dinos have inspired countless myths, toys, movies, and debates among children and grown-ass adults alike. Then there are creatures like the dodo and the Tasmanian tiger (or Thylacine) which are sort of popular because of their proximity to our time. People older than us (and likely dearly departed) have seen them, but we can’t.
But I think there is one group of extinct animals that gets kind of ripped off in this whole raise-awareness-for-things-we-can’t-do-anything-about discussion: the large mammals.
Sure, Woolly Mammoths get plenty of press because every year it seems that someone is digging up a supremely well preserved specimen and talking about cloning it, which is probably a bad idea. Saber-tooth cat is also a pretty sexy animal we don’t get to study any more, but they’re a one-trick predator. Their teeth are cosmetically awesome, but they’re bite force wasn’t that impressive and I think the Ice Age movies were kind of lame.
But seriously — check out these beasts of the Pleistocene and Quarternary periods which is, as luck would have it, when human ancestors and humans began showing up on the scene.
This mammalian badass might be the largest land based carnivorous mammal who ever roamed the Earth. Think of it as a cross between a wolf-lion-horse-pig. It had a massive skull which means it had a massive bite force meant to chomp straight though pretty much anything it might have come across. Andrewsarchus was likely about (and possibly more than)15 feet long. There has only been one fossil found so far, which means that, like your crush, it is incredibly hard to know what this beats habits, range, and mating patterns were. Suffice it to say, though, they were super scary.
Or giant sloth to the lay person — and it was indeed giant. At around 18 foot long and 4 tons heavy, this sloth had a reason to be lazy. Can you imagine carrying that much around? No, you can’t so don’t pretend you can, it just makes you seem silly. This beast hung around South America and, based on its descendants, the behavior shouldn’t really surprise you. From the BBC:
Megatherium is thought to have been a herbivore, although there have been suggestions that its long claws and very strong forelimbs may have allowed it to scavenge meat, or even kill animals such as glyptodonts. Fossilised footprints show that it often walked on its hind legs, although there is much debate as to what it looked like when it did.
The largest land mammal ever. Weighing in at a truly staggering 20 tons (40,000 pounds, holy shit) and around 15 feet tall, this creature hung around Asia and ate a whole bunch of plants that were very high up, which likely spelled the doom of the species once grasslands replaced the forests Indoricotherium depended on for food and other luxuries.
The Dire Wolf
Yeah, they were real and as every bit as frightening as Game of Thrones made them out to be. They were super-big wolves that lived during the Pleistocene Epoch in the Americas. The Dire Wolf was significantly larger than the average modern Gray Wolf and probably traveled in packs as well. They were well suited to take on other megafauna (big freakin’ animals) due to their enormous bite force. What the hell, here’s a Game of Thrones clip. If you don’t want spoilers, don’t click play dammit.
And here’s a painting of what they might have looked like IRL:
photo credit: GaylaLin, Creative Commons/flickr