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Posts from the ‘Extinct’ Category

Zach goes to the Dinosaur Park

How Tyrannosaurus Ate Triceratops

By examining bite marks on the bones of Triceratops a team has figured out how Tyrannosaurus would eat them. Step one: get a good grip on its neck frill. Step two: tear to expose the tasty neck muscles. Step three: have a wee nibble on its face. Step four: eat the wibbly bits under the frill.

Nature

Why did T rex have little arms?

Since man first stepped out from the forests and developed a rudimentary sense of personal hygiene, we’ve asked questions about everything; is there a beared sky fairy? Is there life outside of our own galaxy? How many questions is it acceptable to use as padding in an essay? Few questions are as beguiling as a mystery that surrounds the most ghastly, grisliest, most dreadful blood-curdling creature ever to have walked the planet. Why was it that T rex had silly little arms?

In many creatures there exist vestigial structures, bits of the body that over time and many generations have become smaller as they’ve given no evolutionary advantage. Whales have little legs on a tiny pelvis hidden deep within their tubby bodies. Emus and other flightless birds retain small wings that are quite useless. Even in our own bodies there is a tiny tail at the bottom of our spine, not to mention Darwin’s tubercle; a muscle connector in our ears and countless other body parts that have drifted off into a miniature useless version of their former selves.

Not surprisingly it’s been hypothesized that T rex’s arms were tiny as they weren’t needed. Though if we look at the bones we can see that there are large areas for muscle attachments and indeed the bones were thick and strong. It’s been shown that T-rex’s tiny arms were likely somewhere in the order of three and a half times stronger than a human arm. Indeed you’d unlikely to win a T rex in an arm wrestle, mainly due to the fact that he would be chewing on your nubbly bits.

So what did he use his weeny arms for? Well it’s highly likely that they were some help at getting him upright again if he’d faceplanted. It’s also possible that they were used to hold struggling prey. One intriguing theory is that they were used to hold a mate, many creatures have evolved such ways of holding down some poor member of the opposite sex while they’re being humped… indeed it’s pretty understandable as to why there’d be a necessity to evolve something to stop their date leaving.

Why the most ghastly, grisliest, most dreadful blood-curdling creature ever to have walked the planet had silly little arms; we’ll probably never know. Though we rather like the idea of them being used to hold on to their partners in a passionate embrace; in other words his silly little arms might just have been used for cuddles.

The sound of a Jurassic cricket

A sound unheard for 165 million years.

This is the song of an extinct bush cricket from Inner Mongolia. Researchers at Bristol University were able to recreate it after studying a fossil of the long silenced creature.

Stephens Island Wren

There is perhaps one animal we can doff our caps to as quite simply the most depraved, sociopathic, genocidal, xenophobic, maniacal bastard on the planet… in this case its name was Tibbles.

Yes quite, one is sure you have guessed that we are talking about the common housecat, Felis catus as learned types call them… git as it’s referred to by pretty much every animal small enough to fit into the sod’s mouth… mice and birds in particular are not surprisingly really rather vociferous in this matter…. even more so the Stephens Island wren, a bird that had evolved into a mouse.

We’ve heard in previous evenings at The Proceedings about how New Zealand’s birds have evolved flightlessness, taken the ecological niche of pigs and indeed been right royally buggered every time something new moved into the neighbourhood. Similar to that tubby lump the kakapo the Stephens Island wren has taken up the ecological niche of a mouse. As there were no mammals in New Zealand the wee bird had a marvellous idea, it would take advantage of the huge gap in the market and scamper around the forest floors eating nuts and berries and generally being all mouse like.

Until the late 1800’s that is. The problem was that the lump of rock that is Stephens Island kept on getting in the way of boats, and rather than ask it politely to move, it was thought some sort of lighthouse prudent. Within fifteen years they had finished the big shiner, about the same time as someone thought having a cat around the place would brighten things up a bit too. A rather fat looking cat.

Though it seems Tibbles wasn’t in need of a bit of exercise and was in fact full of wee sweet depraved, sociopathic, genocidal, xenophobic, maniacal bastards. Within years the islands were swarming with feral cats, not the best news for a defenseless mousey bird… and indeed within years the Stephens Island wren had been eaten off the planet.

While it seems that it is just an enduring myth; the decimation of an entire species by a single lighthouse keeper’s cat called Tibbles. Rather it was a whole bally army of the most depraved, sociopathic, genocidal, xenophobic, maniacal bastards the planet has ever known… What’s that? Yes quite, a slur indeed, though it’s nowhere near as bad as what the Stephens Island wren would call them.

Sharovipteryx

Meet the bite-sized winged beastie sharovipteryx or ‘sharov’s wing’ as it roughly translates, hailing from the time of the first dinosaurs and crocodilians or the ‘big snappy jawed lizardy thingamujigs that will eat anything whatever they are roughly called’. A time, it should be duly noted, when it was a remarkably bad period for being a bite-sized winged beastie… thankfully sharovipteryx had an idea.

... wweeeeeeeeee ...

Honking great legs are a marvellous plan if you are going to live through the chomping years, running like the blazes being a rather good idea. Not short on bloody good idea’s old sharovipteryx had some extras bobbed in, wings on its legs to be precise, swooping off like your life depended on it was a tip top plan… not least because it did.

What is of course remarkable is that sharovipteryx’s wings were on his back legs. He was most definitely a glider rather than a flyer. It may also have been that he used his big clawed back feet to run up trees and glide off away from anything that would think him a satisfactory brunch. Our little swooping chum may well have been the ancestor of the pterosaurs; the first flying vertebrates and the largest flying creatures ever, the biggest attaining the size of a biplane… sadly for our flying snack it was a few years until these honking great brutes appeared.

... wahoooooo....

In these modern days of remarkable design… when one can take an airship across the Atlantic in just five days… when the continued march of miniaturisation means that one can make rudimentary mathematical calculations with a machine just a bit smaller than your average three bed semi-detached… we’re simply not used to seeing such a silly set up. Though upon ruminating on the concept it’s not so silly, or indeed archaic, the design is exactly like a canard; a plane with a small wing at the front to help with lift, control or to reduce turbulence. Indeed the Wright brother’s rather lauded first flyer was a lift canard aeroplane… even modern fighter jets are configured in this manner. Thankfully, unlike our chum sharivopteryx, there is nothing around big enough to eat the buggers.

Opabinia

When Professor Harry B Whittington first showed his beloved and painstaking reconstruction of opabinia to his esteemed peers they gave a rather surprising response… they laughed.

Sadly it wasn’t because opabinia was a famed wit and raconteur, nor were these learned types prone to giddy bouts, poor opabinia was just a bit funny looking. Of course guffawing at his looks wasn’t a very nice thing to do, and could go part way to explain why this odd chap hasn’t been that social in the last 500 million years.

opabinia regalis

Opabinia and the rest of the Burgess shales loved her new slacks

Though it’s not just the five eyes that make this chap Ever so Strange. Where to begin ‘pon his many festoonations? One thinks we may have to go through this logically. So starting at the rather odd-front; opabinia has what can only be described as a spiny claw. The claw is attached to a hollow trunk, yes quite like that of the elephant, except corrugated as if it were a hoover attachment. He would have used the claw on the end of his odd trunk much like an elephant too, to pick up morsels he quite liked the look of on the seabed and shove them in his odd little mouth that faced backwards.

His head was quite normal… if you can call a head with five eyes normal… no… oh. Very well then. His odd head, with its odd backwards-facing mouth, was stuck on a body that in all fairness was a bit odd. It was basically fifteen segments on each of which was an odd floppy lobe either side, odd floppy lobes that would Mexican wave him through the Cambrian seas… which, for the record, were rather odd places.

So why was opabinia so odd? Well it seems we judge him with modern eyes, we try and compare him with what we know we say ‘he’s a bit like a scorpion or a horseshoe crab.’ Though this odd one out is just not like that, for a start off he’s not even a crustacean or an insect or anything we are lucky enough to have on our planet today, he doesn’t even have a hard shell. The wobbly chap was in fact more closely related to the tardigrades and velvet worms. Perhaps this is what opabinia best represents, the many experimental forms that evolved, only to fall at various hurdles. Hopefully no-one laughed when he tripped up.

Regurgitalites – Fossil Vomit

It’s well known that various extinct beasties have been outlived by their droppings in fossilized form or coprolites. Thought it less well documented that there are a number of fossilised barfs. While dinosaurs stamped upon the ground the icthyosaurs, giant marine lizards, sloshed around the seas eating crunchy things. Much like an owl hoiks up a gut full of insect bits and bones, it seems these extinct beasts would chunder out bits of smaller things that were unfortunate enough to be eaten by the beasties.

fossilized ichthyosaur vomit

via wordspy

Building a dinosaur from a chicken

Indricotherium

Russian legend tells of the legend of the Indrik; the king of all the animals, a gigantic bull with the head of a horse, when he stirs the ground shakes…

The largest mammal to stomp around the planet wasn’t an elephant, and the tallest warm and furry that ever lived wasn’t a giraffe. Say ‘how do you do’ to Indricotherium the biggest bloody rhino you’ll ever set eyes on. He was the biggest standy mammal that ever lived, and the biggest leggy thing on the planet since the huge sauropod dinosaurs, yes that’s right the ones with the long necks, four legs, big chap… can’t miss them… diplodocus and brontosaurus and whatnot…

It’s no coincidence either that this elephantine-giraffey looking rhino had come to look like a honking great reachy thingy. They ate the leaves at the top of trees, in a word; browsers. They chomped on leaves and twigs, also known as browse. As opposed to grazers who not surprisingly eat grass.

Millions of years before Indricotherium there were the big sauropod dinosaurs who had honking great necks to pluck at vegetation. After them came the big reachy rhino we are dribbling on about now, and after him came the long necked giraffes and indeed the elephants who gave up on the whole neck thing and grew a honking great honker. All rather distinctive creatures that have evolved into the same shape to get at the same bit of grub. Indeed if you look at the outline of each, they all look much the same. Like different animals made of putty, with different bits squidged out into long bits for getting at those lovely browse. They did have something in common though… they were all beasts that could shake the very earth beneath your feet.

Photo by Edoardo Forneris – http://flic.kr/p/9zLFEb