By looking at the bones in velociraptor skulls some clever chaps have been able to ascertain that they hunted at night, presumably to avoid other dinosaurs pointing out that they were ‘about the size of a turkey and not that scary at all’.
It’s often remarked that there are no penguins sat atop our planet in the Arctic circle, which is a shame as pretty much anywhere can be improved by the wee buffoons. It’s also worth noting that perhaps this was not always the case…
The great auk was a large black and white flightless bird that sploshed around the Northern seas acting all sweet and daft. Millions of the buggers were dotted all over the Northern hemisphere, from the Americas to Blighty and everywhere in between. Being big docile tasty things didn’t do too well for them either, as they were often lunched upon. It is said that the daft creatures were easily gathered and could even be herded right onto a ship, they would waddle right up the gangplank… an 18th century ready meal.
The great auk even had the audacity to be all warm and cuddly too, and so their down was made into pillows. The last of these clumsy birds on the British Isles met a sorry end when it was tied up for three days by three men on St Kilda. On the third day of its captivity a great tempest arrived, the men decided the bird must be a witch and hit it with sticks. The last colony of great auk was off Iceland. They may have even survived on the completely inaccessible lump of rock out to see… had it not been volcanic.
At some point in the depths of time someone saw fit to call the great auk “pinguins” or something very like it. No-one knows where the name came from, it could be that their feathers were used as quills “pen-wings” or that they are named after the Welsh “pengwyn” literally “white head”. It could derive from the Latin “pinguis” the “fat one”… which is dreadfully unkind. Either way the penguin of the Antartic is in fact named after the auk, and when Europeans finally got around to bothering the other side of the planet they were surprised to find a whole lot of penguins down their, just like the ones they used to have.
The quelili or guadalupe caracara may well be the only species we’ve wiped off the planet on purpose by accident. In 1900 naturalist Rollo Beck landed on the island and shot nine of a group of eleven. They were never seen again… death by conservationist.
The first dinosaur bone ever described was named Scrotum humanum by Richard Brookes in 1793. We have no idea why. Although it was lost its engraving was detailed enough for experts to realise it was the upper part of the femur of a Megalosaurus, rather than the scribblings of a bored immature paeleontologist.
Over thousands of years some dinosaurs had the bright idea of giving up on the whole front limb thing. They were rather well suited to what they enjoyed doing without big arms getting in the way; they had big legs to run fast with and bitey bits to bite bits with. Think T rex with his odd little arms. One recently unearthed specimen took it to its logical conclusion, Linhenykus monodactylus, its limbs withered away to a mere single digit, which it may have used to poke at things with.
A rather wise chap once said ‘seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.’ Here at the Proceedings we don’t advise such behaviour… for a start off they would be far too small. Though we would certainly encourage you to never grow up in the first place, and to look at this wonderful world with the shock and delight of a wee one. Of course one way that early man could be shocked, though rather less delighted, by the joys of this planet would be to have been torn limb from limb by a Haast’s eagle.
At about the same time as Columbus announced that he had found something interesting across the sea… completely oblivious to the great Viking Leif Ericsson wandering around the Americas five hundred years previously… and it already being full of people in the first blinking place. The Haast’s eagle was happily tucking into its own natives in New Zealand. Yes, quite… a man-eating eagle. The bugger would come screaming in at about fifty miles per hour, and though they were relatively light compared to a man it has been estimated the force with which they would hit you would be similar to being walloped by a large building brick dropped from the top of a tower block. Of course being hit by a large building brick dropped from the top of a tower block would in fact be a pleasant experience compared to being preyed upon by a Haast’s eagle. Building blocks dropping of tower blocks wouldn’t be hitting you with talons the size of a kitchen knife for starters, neither would they proceed to deliver a fatal blow with their other leg, before disembowelling you with its bugger off beak.
Thankfully humans weren’t its favourite grub, it was rather partial to the moa; a huge flightless bird. Obviously to take down huge flightless birds, and indeed the odd Polynesian chappy, the Haast’s eagle needed to be huge, which was handy because it was. It was about 40% bigger than the biggest eagles around today; the steller sea eagle and indeed the golden eagle. Though they didn’t appear much bigger, their wingspan being quite similar, just under three metres helping it to dart among the dense forests of New Zealand. It was this rather limited menu that was to be his downfall, as the Maori were also quite partial to the Moa and ate it out of extinction, other prey had evolved to rather sensibly stay well clear of enormous birds that could hit you with the ferocity of masonry hoiked off buildings. What’s more, being rather rowdy types, that man chap didn’t like being eaten by Haast’s eagles and… well… killed a few back. The Haast’s eagle went extinct sometime in the 15th Century.
Julius von Haast: A boy at heart... and quite possibly a badger in beard
Finally we’d like to take time out to give a quick remembrance to a dear friend of The Proceedings; Johann Franz Julius Haast. He did many splendid things in New Zealand, not least of which was his studies of the remains of an amazing eagle. He discovered all sorts about the islands he loved and lived in, and New Zealanders have named all sorts of things after him; rivers, towns, glaciers, rocks, passes, glaciers not to mention a rather big bird. Though perhaps a greater epitaph would be from his friend the eminent anthropologist John Macmillan Brown who put it rather delightfully “he was a boy in heart until the day he died”.