tisdag, februari 17

More Awesome Animals

Ok, so I take for granted you've all read my Top Ten Most Awesome Animals Ever? This is the grand continuation of that list, the beings that aren't quite awesome enough to make it into the very top 10, but still sufficiently awesome to be in the top 20. While they can't compete with the likes of Deinonychus antirrhopus or the woolly mammoth, they still count among the coolest (or most bizarre, or most awe-inspiring) animals ever to have existed. Let's just begin.

20. Dawn horse (Hyracotherium leporinum), Eocene, 60-45 million years BP, North America

These little buggers are the forefathers of both the horses and the brontotheres (see below), which is rather hard to believe when you look at them, considering they were about 20 cm tall. While a distinct lack of size normally doesn't get you qualified for awesomeness, being an ancestor of the horses just might do the job. Without horses, there would have been no chariots, no steppe nomads, maybe not even iron-age civilisations. Almost all the coolness that the human race has accomplished would have been impossible without them.

Considering that, there is something distinctively awesome about being miniscule proto-horses after all. The name "dawn horse" does indeed sound extremely cool.

19. Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), Pleistocene, 270.000-27.800 years BP, Europe and Caucasus

Living in the great ice-age forest that once covered much of Europe, the cave bear died out when these forest recided. However, like other members of the megafauna, it still managed to make its imprint on the human consciousness. The very name "cave bear" gets your imagination going. You see it rushing out of a cave, going berzerk on a bunch of Cro-Magnon trying desperately to kill it with spears and hatchets. If that image weren't actually quite correct, the cave bear wouldn't have made it into the awesomeness top twenty. You see, it wasn't actually larger than grizzly bears are today, and it was mostly a vegetarian, which hardly inspires much dread.

On the other hand, grizzly bear-size is quite humongous.

But here's the really good part: a lot of cave bear skulls have been found arranged in really strange ways in cave dwellings of the Neanderthals, all across Europe. Although we'll never know for sure, it would seem that the Neanderthals actually worshipped the cave bear. How's that for awesomeness?

18. Ocean sunfish (Mola mola), Late Miocene-Present, ~10-0 million years BP, Tropical and temperate oceans worldwide

It's hard to belive this species were actually named "Mola mola" by Linneaus. It's latin for "millstone" apparently, as this fish is thought to resemble one. It might be a fitting name, considering how hard it is to take it seriously, as ocean sunfishs look quite ridiculous and are completely harmless to humans. Never forget, however; size equals awesomeness, at least to a certain degree, and the Mola mola is the largest bony fish in the world. Also, if you turn it over on the side, it would look like a biotechnological starship or something. The Vorlons would approve.

17. Brontotherium gigas, Eocene-Oligocene, 38-32 million years BP, North America.

Except for the Elasmotherium, this species had the most awesome horns in history. An ancient relative to horses and tapirs, they once roamed the plains in vast herds. And they were large, about 2,5 meters high. Brontotherium died out tens of millions of years before humans made their way to the Americas, but it still managed to inspire awe; as Native Americans eventually found their bones and believed they came from beings that produced thunder as they ran through the clouds. The latin name Brontotherium actually means "Thunder beast".

16. Elephant Bird (Aepyornis Maximus), Pleistocene-Present, 70.000-200 years BP, Madagascar.

While not the largest bird ever (the giant moa of New Zeeland has that honor), Aepyornis was the heaviest, and still gigantic by all means: about three meters tall and weighing in at over 400 kg. Ostrichs are small by comparison. Like many extraordinarily large, flightless birds, Aepyornis evolved in isolation on an island, where it filled the same echological niche as large, grazing mammals elsewhere.

It is not know exactly why Aepyornis died out, but humans likely played a part. It held out a while longer than the moa; long enough to be mentioned in european records. Sadly, it would seem no one ever claims that Aepyornis is still alive, while supposed sightings of giant moa are sometimes reported from New Zeeland. The exalted status of cryptid always makes an animal cool, so that would be a point in the moas favor...

...If not for the fact that moas were ugly as hell. That's why the elephant bird of Madagascar is the one who gets to represent all humongous birds on this list. It might have been the source behind the colossal Roc bird in A Thousand and One Nights, which is certainly quite cool.

Being a distant descendant of Deinonychus antirrhopus, no matter how docile, also helps of course.

15. Galápagos tortoise (Geochelone nigra), Late Miocene-Present, ~10-0 million years BP, Galápagos islands

The tortoises belong to a very ancient order, and considering how it seems like just about everything was bigger in the past, there have once been turtles much larger than those of today. However, they lived in the sea, and the seas have always been filled with bizarre stuff; having creatures like this on dry land is much more awesome, calmly walking about on their stout legs like they owned the place.

And this is the biggest of them, and thus the most awesome. Just having something defined as an exoskeleton does help, of course, as does living at least as long as the cachalot; in fact, certain individual giant tortoises may have been the oldest animals ever recorded (we're talking two or even three centuries). It's just a shame they're not big enough that grown people can ride them. Still, with its rugged cool looks, the Galápagos tortoise beats out every other creature that have ever worn a shell, it's just that awesome.

14. Short-tail stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata), Late Cretaceous-Present, 100-0 million years BP, Eastern Indian ocean, Southern Pacific

There seem to have been a bet among the entire fucking fauna of Australia about who'd be the one to bring Steve Irwin, aka "the Crocodile Hunter", down. Eventually, the stingrays did the deed, and earned the enduring jealousy of all. You see, these guys are poisonous as hell, and have a barbed tail that they can jam straight into your heart. It has to be said; generally, stingrays are pretty docile, which isn't a trait that gets one qualified for awesomeness, but when they do get pissed, then can and will hurt you.

Primarily, though, they're ancient, and thus look extremely bizarre. Some astronomists in the 60's or something even thought there could be beings like this swimming around in the gas clouds of Jupiter. Yes, you read right; stingrays are so bizarre that scientists once imagined extraterrestrial beings could look like them. In fact, the entire biological class they belong to, Chondrichthyes, called "broskfiskar" in swedish, are pretty awesome; at least three of 'em will make it into the top twenty. The short-tail stingray is the largest of the stingray family, up to 4,3 meters long, and because size equals awesomeness, it'll represent them on this list:

13. Hatzegopteryx thambema, Late Cretaceous, 65 million years BP, Eastern Europe

A larger relative of the more well-known Quetzalcoatlus, this might have been the largest flying creature in the history of the earth. Its entire family has a quite awesome name, '"Azhdarchidae", from a dragon in Uzbek mythology. And dragons are, as we all know, in the absolute top tier of awesomeness.

Although extremely ugly, Hatzegopteryx was absolutely gigantic, it's skull alone almost 3 meters long, among the largest skulls of any known non-marine animals. Scientists assume the weight of the skull must have been reduced by tiny hollows in the internal bone structure just to make this beast able to lift from the ground. And it was a predator, which is always a plus.

The most bizarre part, however, is the way it walked when it was on the ground, like a bow-legged giraffe or something:

12. Haast's eagle (Harpagornis moorei), Pleistocene-Holocene, ~1.8 million-600 years BP, New Zeeland.

There's really not much that has to be said about this guy. Eagles are maybe the most beautiful of all birds, and Haast's eagle was the largest, with females weighing about 10-15 kg, compared to the 9 kg that really huge eagles weigh today. Developing in isolation on New Zeeland, it preyed on the hapless megafauna, and experienced the greatest and fastest evolutionary increase in weight of any known vertebrate. Diving from the air at 80 km/h, it landed on its target like a cinder block dropped from 25 meters, and could kill creatures 15 times its own size - in fact, it preyed on giant fucking moas.

It is commonly thought that Haast's eagle died out because humans killed off the creatures it preyed on. However, it is possible that the Maori actively hunted it down; for a beast that commonly killed much larger bipeds, humans might have been viable prey. Now that would have caused cries of joy and jealousy even from Deinonychus.

11. Dunkleosteus terrelli, Late Devonian, 380-360 million years BP, Panthalassic ocean

While not the most awesome marine animal ever, Dunkleosteus might be the most scary. It is also by far the most ancient creature on the Most Awesome Animals-lists, a true horror from the dawn of time. An apex predator, it roamed the coastal waters of the Panthalassa, the vast global ocean that covered most of the world during the Paleozoic era.

Apart from its horrifying disposition, Dunkleosteus is thought to have possessed the most powerful bite of any fish, even the sharks pale in comparison. We're talking jaw strenght comparable to that of Tyrannosaurus and modern crocodiles here; that's the most powerful bite of all times. Just to make it even worse, Dunkleosteus lacked teeth, and instead had a pair of sharp armored plates that formed a terrible beak.

But here's the part that really should have gotten this beast qualified for the real Top Ten, hadn't I forgotten about it: it was six meters long:

And the compulsory honorary mention goes to:

Neanderthal (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), Pleistocene, 130.000-30 000 years BP, Europe and Western Asia

One of the great mysteries of the world. Who were they, really? Why did they disappear? Did they leave any traces of their existence in modern humans? There are are many theories, but no sure answers.

But it is almost certain they had religion, language, advanced tools, and were in most ways just as advanced as their human contemporaries; they might even have had music; there's a small object found in Slovenia that seems to have been a neanderthal flute. The old view of them as primitive half-monkeys are long gone; these guys were human. They had thoughts and feelings like we have, and their fate really should teach us something about our own frailty.

Had things been different, the Neanderthals might have been the ones to invent the internet and pizza and the geological timescale. Maybe they would never have exterminated the mammoth to begin with. Now that's an awesome thought.

5 kommentarer:

  1. Jag hittade hit via din systers blogg. Riktigt fina inlägg om awesome djur.

    Med tanke på att jag faktiskt lagt ned en tid på att läsa allt så borde jag droppa en kommentar åtminstone.

  2. Jadu Olis, hur ska du kunna överträffa dessa briljanta inlägg? Du får nog fortsätta göra listor, man har fått mersmak nu. Cutest baby animals next please!

    Men du, jag känner lite att hjortdjur lyser med sin frånvaro. Delar du inte min kärlek för dem? Fast det förstås...de är väl sällan awesome, mest bara vackra. Men liksom, Megalocerus giganteus med de gigantiska hornen, visst vore väl den awe-inspiring som tusan om man kunde se den ute i naturen idag? Eller en ren som denna: http://img6.imageshack.us/img6/8185/rensdyr.jpg.

  3. Den här kommentaren har tagits bort av skribenten.

  4. Både renar och myskoxar hade så kommit med på top 30-21. Det var ett -svårt- beslut dem och gryningshästarna. Jättekronhjorten är ganska frän den med, men liksom inte rakt av...awesome.

    Problemet med att göra en 30-21-lista är att den hade blivit enformig, eftersom det då blir dags att ta upp en massa andra arter av mammut, tiger etc. Cutest Baby Animals-listan ska så göras, men jag har några idéer på listor som inte handlar om djur också. Vi får se vad som kommer först :)