Awesome Animals – WIF Supreheroes

Leave a comment

Superheroes

of the

Animal Kingdom

Superpowers may be the stuff of science fiction, but certain animal species possess superpowers–or at least engage in activities that we might attributeto superheroes or, sometimes, supervillains. From starting fires, strategically bleeding from the eyes, protecting other species at sea, living as a snake that gets airborne, and being a walking incendiary weapon, here are some freaks, special operators, and rogues of the living world that will certainly expand our view of critter “can-do.”

10. The Firebird Hunters

Winged and feathered pyromaniacs hunt by fire, according to some rather hot theories put forward based on Australian ornithological observation. While further hard scientific investigation is warranted, it appears that certain raptors such as kites will pick up small smoldering or flaming sticks and then drop them in strategic areas to advance grass fires in their favor. Work published in the Journal of Ethnobiology describes the account of a firefighter who witnessed a Whistling Kite in Australia restarting and spreading fire by picking up burning sticks.

What does the apparent advantage of spreading fires appear to be? Fires flush out or burn prey, allowing easy capture or scavenging of dead remains. Animals fleeing the advancing face of a fire have nowhere to go but away from the bank of flames, which would allow birds taking advantage of this apparently planned situation a relatively easy meal. Birds of many species are naturally adept at gathering small sticks to build well-engineered nests, suggesting that this same stick gathering aptitude may be harnessed by select birds of prey and applied for more… shall we say… high stakes and extreme purposes. It’s already known that birds feed along the face of fires, while many species drop shells strategically to break them open. Using fire to create a hunting opportunity presents a profound twist of ornithology deserving further investigation.

9. The Whale Guardians of The Perilous Sea

Whales may be enormous, but true whales tend to be gentle giants, with the majority of species concentrating their feeding efforts on plankton and small fish. In contrast, Orca–or Killer Whales–are actually giant, hyper-intelligent predatory dolphins that hunt almost anything in the ocean, depending on the type of Orca in question. Transient Orca populations are known as ravenous eaters of whales larger than themselves, while all Orca are apex predators.

And where that danger to other sea life posed by Orca hunting behavior exists, a surprising phenomenon of apparent protection of intended prey–including species as random and diverse as sunfish, seals, and other the young of another whale species–has been to be carried out by “guardian” Humpback Whales. Apparently perceiving the carnage of Orca hunts in a negative light, these determined Humpback “Citizens on Patrol” have been acting as oceanic bodyguards to species finding themselves on the menu for Orca dinners. In one case, a seal was sheltered from a predatory Orca attack, while in another instance, Humpback Whale adults gave up a favorite food that they were themselves targeting (a swarm of shrimp-like krill) to focus instead on defending a Grey Whale calf from a hungry Orca pod.

8. The Bleeding Lizards

Crocodile tears may be a physiological reality, but a number of species belonging to a group of smaller reptiles, the diminutive and dragon-like horned lizards native to North America, take things a step further. Predators might want a mouthful of lizard meat, but apparently a mouthful of squirted blood, or a mess of blood on a would-be hunter’s face, is a fair deterrent. The bizarre superpower of squirting blood from the eyes in an act of strange self-defense is held by eight or more horned lizard species, thanks to special blood filled sinus cavities located around the reptile’s eye sockets.

Upon perceiving a threat such as a coyote or bobcat wanting the lizard as a meal, horned lizard species squirt distasteful blood from the eye sockets with great force, discouraging the meal. Specialized muscles tighten to concentrate blood flow from large veins into thin membrane-bearing ocular sinuses. With sufficient force, the membrane will burst, launching sprays of blood to a distance of up to four feet. Resembling a tiny triceratops dinosaur with its horny adornments behind the eyes and armored body, horned lizards with blood squirting capabilities enjoy excellent compensatory defense considering their small size. Interestingly, the vein flow to the sinuses can be controlled to flush debris away from the desert dwelling animal’s eyes, swelling the membranes.

7. The Flying Snakes

Dragons may be creatures of legend, but something that makes even the thought of pigs flying seem possible exists and thrives after millennia of evolution in rain forests extending from India to Indonesia. Flying snakes spread out the skin on their body by extending their ribs, allowing them to glide magically from one tree to another in pursuit of food and to avoid larger hunters. (Oh, and also to feed your nightmares.) There are five species of flying snakes that exist, all having the ability to slither through the air at high speeds in a beautiful glide.

Ranging between two and four feet in length, flying snakes are venomous predators but pose little threat to humans, as their fangs are positioned toward the back of their jaws and cannot easily deliver an effective bite. Flying snakes prepare to get airborne by hanging suspended in the shape of the letter “J” at a strategic point on a tree branch. Next, the snake uses its rear muscles to “spring” from the tree, moving its body into the shape of the letter “S” once in the air. The snake then forms a concave shape with the cross-section of its body while stretching laterally to twice its original width. The resulting aerodynamic shape traps air under the snake’s body as it glides through the air. Researchers think the precise purpose of this flying ability is either for easy travel between trees in the forest canopy, predator avoidance, or to catch up with prey.

6. Hairy Frog

A frog with sharp claws might seem scary, but even more horrible but remarkable is the way in which the Hairy Frog, named for its weird body bristles, shall we say… procures its weapons for self-defense. The grotesque looking Hairy Frog, native to Central African regions including the country of Cameroon, actually has specialized musculoskeletal adaptations in its hind feet which allow sharp bone pieces to protrude through the frog’s flesh as sharp spikes once released.

Scientists from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, who were studying the frog’s disconcerting adaptation, reached the conclusion that the behavior was a strange form of self-defense. Specialized muscle contractions in the frog’s hind feet allow a razor sharp fragment to detach from the main toe bone section by breaking bone-joining collagen tissue, subsequently slicing right through the frog’s skin, creating dangerous claws while avoiding any catastrophic blood loss. While injury and pain would seem to be inherent in the action, the balance of risk and harm seems to be in favor of the frog, and against the predators. Essentially, this frog is the Wolverine (the character, not the actual animal) of the animal kingdom. The Hairy Frog is a formidable predator in its own right, having sharp teeth and a habit of seizing a variety of small animals as prey.

5. Bombardier Beetle

Molten lava comes from the Earth, while chemical weapons are seen as the domain of certain mad scientists or military plotters not concerned about facing the consequences of violating international law. Yet among the incredible variety of insect species found on this planet, formidable chemical weapons are unleashed in a burning, acrid furnace of directed attack by a different group of species that belongs to the uniquely diverse and familiar taxonomic group: beetles. Over 500 species of bombardier beetles go about their daily business on all continents (save for Antarctica), appearing like a normal insect. Hidden inside their hard abdomen are two separate compartments of highly reactive chemicals, consisting of hydrogen peroxide in one section and hydroquinone in the other.

Already well protected by a highly developed exoskeleton, bombardier beetles react to provocation and potential predatory attacks by shooting out the two chemical components in streams that mix and react furiously in a boiling mixture of acrid horror that may reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit, burning with both heat and chemical causticity. Burns to everything from the faces of predatory insects to human skin may result if the beetle is approached too closely. In one research project, over 40% of bombardier beetles swallowed by toads were vomited out alive after successfully “going off” inside the toads, calmly struggling back to their feet and walking off as a survivor of the attack by the amphibious predator. Some survivors had been inside the stomach of a toad for over an hour.

4. The Sand Striker

Worms may be thought of as soft, or a lowly form of life. However, it might come as a disturbing surprise that giant, carnivorous, horrendous worms lie submerged below the waves and buried in the sand, with only their formidable slicing jaws protruding. Known as the Sand Striker or Bobbit Worm, Eunice aphroditois occurs in warmer oceanic waters around the globe. The predatory worms are known to reach 10-feet in length, far larger than the popular imagination of a worm. And these jaws are razor sharp, bone-hard fangs with dentition that snap and simply chop prey in half upon the launch of a surprise attack.

The fangs inject a venomous concoction allowing disproportionately large prey to be digested. Equipped with sensory systems that allow passing prey to be detected with ease, the worms lie motionless in deep burrows only to burst forth when their prey “sensor” system is triggered by a creature that happens to stray to close. Lacking brains, these worms make up for their lack of intelligence by A) having the bone-like fangs which cut prey with surgical precision and incredible force and B) their size. Additionally, they can inflict an awful bite on humans should one accidentally put a finger or hand in the vicinity of their strike.

3. Climbing Perch

Perch are generally seen as the classic lake-dwelling fish, but one family of air breathing relatives of the famed Betta, or Siamese fighting fish, is named after typical perch but actually can move about effectively on land. Not perches proper, but simply forming a family of fish in the order Perciformes, which includes true perches, the various species of climbing perch (also known as climbing gouramis) are handsome little fish with a compact, rounded build and innocent appearance. Climbing perch measure between four inches and one foot in length, depending on the species and use their terrestrial locomotion abilities to find new water when their home pools dry up.

Native to tropical regions of Asia, including parts of China, the fish actually hoist themselves out of the water and proceed to “climb” using their gill covers as resting points. With the gill covers providing a point of leverage, the fish then propel themselves forward with the locomotive power of their tail fin. The typical fish requirement of water in order to breathe is bypassed by the air-breathing organ known as a labyrinth that climbing perch possess. While claims have been made that the fish can climb into vegetation such as trees, such a degree of adaptation allowing a transition from terrestrial to arboreal activity has not been proven.

2. Hoatzin

A bird with clawed hands might seem to be the very definition of prehistorically-themed science fiction, but that is exactly what the hoatzin juvenile represents. When young, this species uses clawed “hands” protruding from its wings to climb trees in swampy areas. Native to extensive northern regions of the South American continent and significantly established in the Amazon River Basin and Orinoco River Basins, the Hoatzin looks somewhat like a pheasant or certain mythical depictions of a phoenix with its peculiar hues of color, as well as its crest, elongated body, and stout bill.

Unlike most birds, the Hoatzin can digest leaves, which form a significant portion of its diet along with fruits and flowers. In order to effectively digest leaves, the Hoatzin possesses an enormously large crop which limits its flying abilities but allows the bird to ruminate in a manner akin to cattle. When a predator attacks a group of Hoatzins, the fluffy-looking young birds will drop into the water below their mangrove or riparian forest home and then scramble back up into the canopy using their wing claws (each wing has two) once the threat has abated. The only species in its order, the primitive bird remains a strange tangent of avian evolution with superpowers of juvenile survival.

1. Mantis Shrimp

Shrimp might be a synonym for a small or simply weak animal. Yet the bizarre and dangerous crustaceans known as mantis shrimp are seemingly normal looking, albeit colorful, marine crustaceans that can combine the hardness of their exoskeleton with a “karate punch” of unbelievable speed and force. And what is the function of this ability to hit with unimaginable strength? To crack open the nearly rock hard shells of clams and other shellfish that the mantis shrimp wants to devour.  Striking with a force exceeding 330 pounds at more than 23 meters per second (or 50 miles per hour) using specially adapted club-like appendages, mantis shrimp can shatter almost any protective armor to take down prey. A locking mechanism and spring allow incredible energy releases.

Unfortunately for aquarists or researchers, a mantis shrimp blow could also destroy a glass aquarium or a finger bone on impact. The blow is powerful enough to produce cavitation bubbles as well as sonoluminescence, which consists of light flashes generated by bubble collapse. The shockwave alone associated with a blow can cause prey to die even if the mantis shrimp does not make physical contact. Other varieties of mantis shrimp use spearing appendages to capture prey instead of blunt force. While not technically falling into the category of decapod shrimp (which includes the type served commonly for dinner), mantis shrimp have a shrimp-like appearance and impression, hence their name. More than 400 species of mantis shrimp occur globally, mostly in tropical waters. Most commonly mantis shrimp grow to just under four inches in length, though a massive 18 inches has been attained.


Awesome Animals –

WIF Supreheroes

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 97

Leave a comment

Constance Caraway P.I. ~ Episode 97

Chapter Nine

DEPARTURE

 …Good neighbors are a treasure, so you treat them like family. Betty Black is one of those…

It has been a relatively mild winter in Tallahassee Florida, in temperature only. This news travels up to Chicago by word of mouth, through the delightful household invention called the telephone. Instead of the time-consuming hassle of sending a telegram, or God forbid, writing a letter and mailing it and waiting for a letter in response —- P-leaze.

IMG_0122

Molly

Constance has been wondering about her four-legged friend who is in the good care of their Tennessee Street neighbor, Betty. Molly, the Yellow Lab, is probably in her upside-down-dog pose on the lady’s front room couch right this very moment, waiting to be fed and then go outside to do her “business”, as the daily ritual goes.

But Betty is also Constance Caraway Private Investigation’s De facto secretary in their office during their absence. Good neighbors are a treasure, so you treat them like family. Betty Black is one of those.

“Weather has been good, but frost got my petunias.” She speaks to the one month’s lack of communication, “You must be busy Miss Constance,”

“I mean you to tell you Bets, if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’,” she states with a twist of familiarity. “How is my Mollyputz?”

“As long as she gets a treat around eleven o’clock she is happy,” Betty loves that dog like her own. “But there are some other matters that require your attention.”

Constance will routinely juggle more than one case at a time, “Are the natives restless?”

R Worth Moore-001“A Mr. R. Worth Moore stopped by the other day asking for Fanny, he left me his business card.” She relays the telephone number.

“Attorney Moore is an associate of James Ferrell, I wonder what he wants?” She thinks back to the 30’s (19) when Fanny was involved in the death investigation of Doctor Alpha Omega Campbell’s mother-in-law.

“He wants one of you to call him, seemed a bit antsy.”

“I’ll speak with Fanny and call you back later Betty.”

“Remember that I’m on a party line with that nosey Quigley woman, in case you don’t want to have your dirty laundry hung out to dry.”

The term “party line” is the telephone configuration where four or five households share their number, so if you are speaking to someone, any one of those other folks can pick up their receiver and listen on your conversation.


Constance Caraway P.I.

Forever Mastadon


page 88

“Jaws” Confidential – WIF @ The Movies

Leave a comment

Surprising Facts

About the Movie

“Jaws”

Jaws is often called the original summer blockbuster, so before the next glut of CGI-laden superhero movies fills screens worldwide, why not read a few lesser known facts about the OG blockbuster that set the precedent that allows them to exist? Starting with…

10. Jaws was a PG Release

Jaws is a film that contains a scene of a man being brutally eaten alive by a shark while screaming (fun fact: the actor supposedly broke his leg during that scene so the screams of pain you hear are real), people having the limbs shorn off, and the most iconic jump scare in cinema history. On top of this, the film also involves scenes involving drinking, smoking, swearing, and at least one instance of a shark eating a chubby kid on a raft. Amazingly, censors of the time saw all this and thought to themselves, yeah, this seems suitable for kids.”

Because yeah, Jaws was a PG rated movie, meaning anyone could go watch this thing so long as they had parental supervision, even if they were still at risk of pooping their pants literally instead of metaphorically. Think about that the next time you go watch an Avengers movie and realize it’s a PG-13 because Sam Jackson says the F-word.

9. It Originally Starred Dwarf Stuntmen

The undeniable star of Jaws is the shark, a role that was variously played by a notoriously unreliable mechanical shark (which we’ll get to in a moment) and several real sharks filmed by the crew. The problem was that the shark, who we’ll just call Jaws even though he had a name (which we’ll also get to), is supposed to be a shark of exceptional size, which kind of created a problem when the crew went to film some real Great Whites and realized they’d look noticeably smaller than their robo-shark. An ingenious solution was found in the form of several midget stuntmen.

The idea was to dress these stuntmen up in the same diving suits as the regular cast and film them next to some average-sized Great Whites, creating a forced perspective that made the sharks look super-huge and buff. To complete the illusion, the production team even built a smaller version of the shark cage seen at the end of the movie that the stuntmen were supposed to float around in. This cage wasn’t built as sturdily as an actual shark cage and as a result, before one of the stuntmen could climb inside it, a Great White tore it to pieces. This led to a total rewrite to ensure…

8. Hooper Survived Because Footage of the Cage Being Destroyed was Too Good Not to Use

The footage of a shark tearing apart the shark cage at the climax of the movie was 100% real and was so good Spielberg insisted that it had to go into the movie. The problem was that the original script called for Hooper to be inside the cage at the time, and for him to be killed in the ensuing attack, just like in the book. Another problem was that after seeing a shark tear apart a shark-proof cage none of the stuntmen would get back into the water.

Not wanting to lose the footage, a hasty rewrite was made to show that Hooper survived by swimming to the bottom of the ocean and hiding from the shark. This change also allowed the editors to use footage of the shark attacking from below (where it’s most obvious nobody is in the cage), framing it as if it’s from Hooper’s point of view as he cowered from the shark in a steadily growing cloud of his own urine.

7. Spielberg Laughed When He First Heard the Theme

John Williams’ theme for Jaws is one of the most iconic in all of cinema. Countless articles and academic papers have been written exploring the deceptive depth of the theme and how it affects those who hear it on an almost primal level. Though considered an integral part of the film’s success today, Spielberg was apparently not all that impressed with the theme when he first heard it, he laughed out loud when Williams played it for him.

You see, Spielberg had assumed that the film’s score would be more akin to that of a swashbuckling pirate movie and thought Williams’ minimalist take on the theme was too Spartan. However, Spielberg deferred to Williams’ judgement for final decision, apparently quipping “okay, let’s give it a shot” when Williams insisted the theme would work. We’re assuming Spielberg has never since question Williams’ judgement after the success of Jaws.

6. The Shark Sank the First Time it was Put Into the Water

As noted previously, the robo-shark used for many of the close-ups in the movie was unreliable to an almost comical degree. This is no better summed up than by what the shark did the very first time it was lowered into the water: it sank like a depressed brick of lead with concrete shoes. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to anybody to check if the shark floated while making it.

Along with sinking, the shark often malfunctioned and would sometimes simply stop working for no reason at all. This not only caused the movie to fall 100 days behind schedule, but also meant that half the shots of the movie involving the shark didn’t have the shark in frame.

Curiously, it’s been noted that the fact Spielberg had to film around the fact the shark wasn’t there most of the time, instead having to suggest its presence, made the movie better. Which kind of makes sense. The reason Jaws is such a scary movie is because there’s a constant threat that the shark could appear at any moment and chow down on your butt. If the shark had been on screen for 50% of the movie like Spielberg had originally planned, its few sporadic appearances would have had less impact. So yeah, when you watch Jaws and find yourself feeling on edge throughout the entire film, that wouldn’t be the case if the shark had actually worked and you could have seen how crappy it actually looked most of the time.

5. The Shark’s Name was Bruce

 The shark in Jaws is always referred to as either, simply, “the shark” or else Jaws, which is weird since throughout filming his name was Bruce. The name is supposedly a name coined by the the production crew as a nod to Spielberg’s lawyer Bruce Raynor who, like the shark, was a bit temperamental.

Spielberg himself wasn’t personally a fan of the name since, unlike the mechanical shark, his lawyer sometimes actually worked. So instead, he came up with an altogether more apt nickname considering the numerous mechanical faults the shark suffered throughout production:  The Great White Turd.

4. Spielberg Spent $3,000 of His Own Money for “One More Scream”

Jaws, hands down, contains one of the single greatest jump scares in cinema history. We’re of course talking about when Hooper finds Ben Gardner’s boat, and a big rubber head comes flying out of a shark shaped hole in the hull. That scene wasn’t in the original cut of the movie and was only added after Spielberg watched the audience reaction to the reveal of the shark at the film’s climax (the bit immediately prior to the “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” line), and realized the reaction wasn’t as intense as he’d hoped.

So Spielberg went back to the studio and asked for $3,000 to film another scene with a bigger jump scare and promptly got told not to do one. To be fair to the production company the film was 100 days behind schedule and over budget, so they were within their right to say no, but luckily for us, Spielberg didn’t take no for an answer.

With the studio refusing to pony up the cash, Spielberg decided to film the scene in someone’s pool using his own money. To make the water look more like the kind of place you’d find a sunken boat, Spielberg had the pool filled with milk powder and then put a big tarp over the top to limit the amount of light that got through to the bottom. Admittedly greedy for “one more scream” the director then instructed the sound engineers to make the jump scare happen before the music reached it’s natural crescendo, to make everyone poop their pants the first time they saw it.

3. It Had one of the Widest Releases of Any Film Ever

Jaws was, as noted, one of the first, if not the first, major summer blockbusters. In fact, prior to the release of Jaws and then

Star Wars a few years later, the summer was considered a low period for cinema since it was believed nobody would waste a ball-sweltering summer’s day sitting in a cool, air conditioned cinema. Oh, how wrong they were.

Upon release, Jaws set numerous records for having such a wide release, opening in some 400 cinemas on its first day. But here’s the really crazy part: Jaws was such a massive phenomenon that the number of cinemas screening it across the US more than doubled over the course of two months. This was unheard of back then and rarely, if ever, happens today since most films make the bulk of their money in the opening weekend. It’s a testament then to the sheer inertia of Jaws that after two months at the cinema, demand was still so high 500 more theatres decided to screen it, too.

2. It Kinda Ruined Sharks (and Beaches) for Everyone

As noted in the previous entry, releasing a film during the summer season used to be considered box office suicide since it was believed everyone would be too busy having fun at the beach. Jaws changed all that and during the summer of 1975 beach attendance fell nationwide.

The drop in beach attendance was credited to both the success of the film, which saw millions of Americans flock to cinemas, as well as the fact it kind of made it scary to go into the water. Speaking of which, the film is still criticized today for painting an unnecessarily harsh and objectively incorrect picture of sharks, which hardly ever attack humans. However, the success of Jaws saw shark attacks not only being reported upon more often (creating the false impression that they were more common than they actually are) but also a more negative perception of the animal, which led to many of them being killed for no real reason. All of which kind of leaves a sour taste in our mouths, so let’s end on something a little lighter, specifically that…

1. Michael Caine Loved the 4th Movie

To date Jaws has made more money and has a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than all three of its sequels combined. The fourth film in particular has an impressive 0% rating on the website, and is largely considered to be the biggest cinematic turd since the one Jeff Goldblum finds in Jurassic Park.

According to critics the film has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and is more painful to sit through than a prostate exam from a pirate with hand tremors. One person who disagress is Michael Caine, who has said of the film: I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Along with being paid a pretty penny for starring in the film, Caine has praised the fact that it features a realistic romance between two middle aged people (something that’s rarely seen in cinema) and enjoyed that he basically got a free trip to the Bahamas. In case you’re thinking that Caine is only positive about the film because he got a free vacation out of it, starring in the film caused him to miss the 1987 Oscars. And it’s important to note, he actually won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year, for the film Hannah and Her Sisters. In other words, Michael Caine had so much fun pretending to fight a giant, fake shark in a terrible Jaws sequel he didn’t mind not collecting the most prestigious award for acting in person.


“Jaws” Confidential

– WIF @ The Movies

Oddly Unlikely Animals – WIF Oddities

Leave a comment

Living Things That

Shouldn’t Exist

(But Do)

Restricted or enabled only by the bounds of natural selection, nature has proven that a vacuum is hard to maintain. While some types of creatures might seem fit for science fiction or simply defy our imagination, the natural world holds a place for creatures that defy common sense or human expectation in existing. Discover poisonous birds, freshwater sharks, plant-eating spiders, and other animals that just don’t seem right, but are out there waiting to expand your concept of life.

10. Pitohuis, the Poison Birds of New Guinea

A bird is the last thing to come to mind when we think of poisonous animals, but the different species of Pitohui from New Guinea are toxic feathered beauties from the rain forest, to be approached with great care. A poisonous bird: What will they think of next? Native to the rain forest environments of New Guinea, the Hooded Pitohui is correctly termed as a poisonous species, rather than a venomous species as a highly dangerous batrachotoxin is present throughout the bird’s feathers, skin and flesh. The bird’s toxicity became apparent in 1989 when a California Academy of Sciences based researcher named Jack Dumbacher who had set out to study birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea noticed burning pain in his hands when scratched by the peculiar Pitohuis caught in nets originally intended to catch birds of paradise for closer inspection.

The toxins that make up the chemical arsenal of these birds are in fact the same lethal compounds found in poison dart frogs notorious for being capable of killing predators and humans alike. Exactly why the birds possess this toxicity remains a matter of scientific interest, with associated speculation that the bright colors of these birds warns potential predators of their chemical laden bodies. The process by which pitohui toxins concentrate also formed a subject of scientific curiosity that was solved by Dumbacher when he went back to the rainforest and in collaboration with locals was able to determine that the source of the toxins consisted of poison-bearing beetlesthat the birds consumed in quantity.

9. Ocean Lizards

Lizards represent the hot desert in the minds of most people to a great degree, or at least a sunny, perhaps dusty garden path or tree trunk in a warm tropical jungle. Yet, a member of this vast and diverse group of small dinosaur lookalikes has done the unimaginable and become marine, basking on wave splashed rocks and foraging under the surf. Native to the Galapagos Islands and surrounding waters, the large and colorful Marine Iguana is a lizard that has mastered the sea, hauling out on rocks like a sea lion in between dives below the waves, where they forage on marine algae and seaweeds chewed off the surface of submerged rocks.

 The plant-based diet is easily harvested with the help of the iguana’s razor like teeth. Efficiency is key to Marine Iguana survival, as meals must be gathered quickly to prevent chilling and loss of heat energy. Measuring over 3 feet in length and weighing up to 22 pounds, the Marine Iguana is the only ocean-going lizard on the planet. Large groups of breeding females jockey for space in the breeding season, while males fight fiercely for a chance to mate with the female of their choice. The dinosaur-like creatures are normally blackish or grey-ish in color, but the males stand out with its greenish and reddish hues that come into color during the breeding season, signalling dominance and urging females to select them as mates.

8. Freshwater Sharks

Freshwater might seem like a place to swim safely without fear of sharks, but a population of Bull Sharks, a species known to have caused human deaths lives in Lake Nicaragua, while several species of river shark patrol fast moving waters in parts of Asia and Oceania, including Australia. Bull Sharks are a primarily ocean going species, but a population oddly yet naturally established in Lake Nicaragua ensures that swimming in a lake is not a guarantee of safety from shark attacks. While normal marine bull sharks are known to travel temporarily up rivers, the true river sharks belonging to the genus Glyphis are rare, at risk species characteristic of rivers and in some species, estuarine waters.

The Ganges Shark is the most closely associated with river habitats, while the Northern River shark and Spear-toothed Shark inhabit rivers and estuaries but more frequently swim in marine coastal zones. While the degree to which they travel in saltwater varies, what these sharks have in common is complete mastery of freshwater environments, with the Ganges shark being especially comfortable far upstream from any source of saltwater. The Bull Sharks that inhabit Lake Nicaragua are not a separate species, but as a population have admirably adapted to the purely freshwater environment of the lake. In order to survive, they draw upon their ability to excrete urine at a higher rate than normal to allow proper osmosis in their lifelong freshwater environment.

7. Meat-Eating Parrots

The Kea of New Zealand is an endangered parrot that acts like a hawk or vulture, eating the young of shearwater chicks and scavenging mammal carcasses. Superficially cute and cartoonish with huge “gooey” eyes, the Kea is the only alpine species of parrot in the world, able to handle cold winds, snow and low temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Their physical adaptations include the ability to soar like a raptor, effectively insulating, thick feathers and exceptionally sharp, hooked beaks that make them adept opportunistic harvesters of meat. Attacks on live mammals are also known to have occurred, especially presenting a concern in the context of livestock management.

Because of the tendency for Kea to sometimes prey on vulnerable sheep, wounding them and removing fat and tissue with their sharp bills, a bounty was placed on the birds, which are now protected but still classed as vulnerable. When not feeding on meat from carrion or live prey or searching for plant material, Kea may use their scythe-like bills to extract juicy grubs from the soil, drawing upon their high quantities of nourish fat and proteins. Brown and green in color at rest, the Keas may seem disappointingly dull to first time observers searching for these parrots, but offer a surprise when viewed in flight from beneath with their bright red wing linings and graceful maneuvers as they search for their next meal.

6. Bipedal Antelopes

Humans might have a near monopoly on mammalian bipedalism and antelopes seem to be the very definition of a quadruped. Yet, the slender Gerenuk, with a name that originates from the Somali word for “Giraffe-necked” defies ungulate normality as an antelope species that feeds in bipedal mode.  The silhouette of the species is unique among all mammals, crossing a stretched version of the typical ungulate body with an almost primate like-vertical stance. While Gerenuk feeds, the front legs awkwardly extend forward into the air. Standing on its spindly hindlegs to reach heights of almost 8 feet,this near threatened ungulate presents a bizarre sight in the grasslands of East Africa, browsing on leaves, berries, buds and flowers that other species cannot reach, especially Acacia leaves.  

The ability to stand upright adds to the Gerenuk’s already long legs and almost ridiculous looking, lengthened, skinny neck in allowing them to reach edible plant material well beyond the reach of most other antelope species, from which they also derive most of their water. With the remarkable occurrence of bipedalism in a hoofed mammal species attracting scientific curiosity, investigation into Gerenuk physiology has revealed interesting adaptations that facilitate and indicate significant evolutionary commitment to bipedal capabilities in this species.  Specifically, Gerenuks have smaller lumbar spinal protrusions, known as processes, allowing increased inward curvature of the spine required to stand upright for prolonged periods of time.

5. Lake Seals

A freshwater seal species does exist and it defies the very definition of marine mammal by it’s entirely lake bound occurrence. Known locally as the Nerpa and possibly half a million years old as a species, the Baikal Seal is the only true entirely freshwater seal species on the planet, restricted to the deep and mysterious Lake Baikal, which is in fact the deepest lake on Earth. Relying on the strange looking Baikal Oilfish or Golomyankas for the majority of their diet as well as sculpins and amphipods, these aquatic carnivores are a species of uncertain origin, still presenting a mystery to biologists who have yet to precisely pin down the circumstances leading up to their establishment in the lake as an endemic species.

Lake Baikal is not only extraordinarily deep, it is also extremely cold, with ice that remains into the spring breeding season. Well adapted to their environment, female Baikal Seals have developed the ability to create ice dens,in which they take shelter and subsequently give birth, usually to one pup. A small seal, the Baikal Seal may reach just past 4.5 feet in length and weigh no more than 154 pounds in most cases. The gray colored, docile lake seals maintain breathing holes in the ice and haul out along rocky shorelines in warmer weather.

4. Plant-Eating Spiders

The concept of a plant-eating spider is something that is unlikely to have entered the minds of most people. The reality that a herbivorous spider exists is likely to surprise even many who are trained biologists or biologists in training. Residing in Southern Mexico and Central America, the recently discovered jumping spider species Bagheera kiplingi is a huge eyed, rather cute looking arachnid that lives a lifestyle running completely counter to what we generally would expect of spiders. The very epitome of a carnivorous invertebrate, spiders are notorious for trapping their prey in webs, ambushing animals from tunnels, injecting doses of venom that are sometimes strong enough to kill a human and running down small prey on foot.

In contrast, the primary component of the diet of the brown and white jumping spider Bagheera kiplingi consists of Beltian bodies, tiny, fibre-rich parcels of plant material that provide certain Acacia plants with the resources to engage in a mutually beneficial relationship with ants that feed on the Beltian bodies but defend the tree from plant eaters. The enterprising Bagheera kipling,however, feeds on the Beltian bodies “intended” for the ants, while avoiding attack by the ants through what might be termed mock predation, swiftly lunging for the Beltian bodies and then beats a hasty retreat from the advancing ants. The spiders are mostly herbivorous, but at times may feed on ant larvae.

3. Nocturnal Gulls

The owls might be the first and only category of birds recalled when nocturnal avian species are brought up. Yet, a little known and unlikely marine bird from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and Malpeno Island, Colombia has fully mastered the night sky through an incredibly strange detour in evolutionary history.  Foraging above the moonlit waves, the Swallow-tailed Gull sees in the relative darkness well enough to navigate and capture their fish and squid prey by moonlight, resting and tending to the young by day.

With ghostly pale spots on its plumage, a dark head and fleshy red tissue circling the eye, the Swallow-tailed Gull is the only truly nocturnal seabird on the planet. The strange looking gulls are equipped with extra large, darkened eyes containing a layer of reflective tissue that bounces light back through the retina to the bird’s photoreceptor cells, aiding it in seeing well while hunting at night. Biochemical adaptations include reduced melatonin levels, a sleep inducing hormone found in higher quantities in all other gulls. Heading out at night in large flocks, the night gulls swoop down to seize squid, small fish and any other invertebrates in reach in their prominently hooked bill before returning to their nesting colonies.

2. Fishing Cats

It is a well established fact in the minds of most that cats detest water, yet there is a species of feline from Asia so committed to an aquatic lifestyle that dramatic physical adaptations have defined its evolutionary history. Instead of shying away from water, the appropriately named Fishing Cat from South Asia and Southeast Asia inhabits wetlands, mangrove swamps and the edges of rivers and streams where they hunt for fish, catching aquatic prey with their sharp claws or seizing prey in their teeth during opportunistic dives into watery feeding areas.

Not afraid of water, the cats have a variety of physical adaptations that give them mastery of the water as some of the most skilled swimmers among predatory mammals. Fish eating cats have short tails, powerful muscles and the ability to walk in mud without sinking and excellent paddling and diving ability, allowing them to plunge deep into the water to capture fish, which forms the major portion of their diet. A thick, short fur base layer of fur insulates the cats from wet and cold when in the water, while longer hairs provide camouflage. An underwater surprise attack approach to hunting waterfowl, where the cats grab swimming birds by the feet from below has also been reported and ranks among the eeriest ways that a mammal can hunt birds.

1. Vegetarian Vultures

Vultures are the quintessential carrion scavenger and often carry a distasteful association with death in human minds. Yet, a quirky vulture widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa stands out in total rebellion against vulture ways. Through yet another unlikely and incredibly specific jog in the evolutionary history of modern fauna, the appropriately monikered Palm-nut Vulture has adapted to a diet centered primarily upon plant material, focusing its foraging on the fruits of the Kosi Palm, Date Palm and Acacia. To feed, the Palm-nut Vulture opens the kernels before extracting the nutritious, fatty meal inside each palm kernel utilizes its massive bill to crack fearsome beak to break open its palm kernel “prey” and strip fruit flesh.

At just two feet long, with a wingspan under five feet wide, the black and white bird with bright fleshy facial patches is actually the smallest Old World vulture species in the world. The plant eating raptor’s small size and agility, coupled with talon bearing, powerful feet facilitate its impressive foraging gymnastics, where it hangs upside down like monkey from palm branches, accessing its food. The entirely vegetarian source of protein forms the bulk of the natural food supply for this bizarre bird of prey, up to 92 percent of the juvenile diet and 58-65 percent of the diet of adults. Fish, insects and occasionally, bats supplement the palm nut, fruit and seed diet of this bird.


Oddly Unlikely Animals

– WIF Oddities

Horrific Sea Creatures – Action Video!

Leave a comment

Terrifying

Sea Creatures

That Need

Their Own

Horror Movie

The surface of the Earth is 71% water, that water is home to some amazing and terrifying creatures. Some of these aquatic animals are rarely seen by humans and live in the murky depths of the ocean, while the others live near the surface and are quite dangerous to us. What they all have in common is that they are the stuff of nightmares.

 10. Gulper Eel

Eurypharynx pelecanoides, commonly known as Gulper Eels, are found in tropical and temperate waters around the earthat depths ranging from 165 feet to 1.8 miles. The eels have large mouths, which is where it gets its other name – Pelican Eels. Their large mouth allows the eels to swallow other animals, mostly crustaceans, even if the animal is bigger than the eel itself. The eels aren’t some small creature, either. They are usually about 30 inches long.

While they look pretty intimidating, they aren’t something you should ever worry about encountering because human sightings of them are pretty rare.

9. Dragonfish

Stomiidae is a family of fish that are better known as Dragonfish. There are 290 species, many of which look terrifying. For example, the Black Dragonfish has a striking resemblance to the Xenomorphs in the Alien franchise.

Dragonfish are found in oceans throughout the world, and one of their most notable features, which is found on most species, is its large mouth that’s lined with large fangs. The good news is that the Dragonfish have fairly weak jaws that close slowly. Their fangs are used to hold large prey in place while the jaw closes.

Some Dragonfish have bioluminescent photophores, which are organs that glow, so they are often found in extremely deep water where light doesn’t reach. So basically, don’t worry about encountering one if you’re taking a dip in the ocean. If you do, you have bigger problems to worry about, like the extreme cold and your lungs collapsing.

8. Anglerfish

National Geographic, who loves to show the beauty of the world, calls the Anglerfish “the ugliest animal in the world.” And we don’t disagree with their assessment, because Anglerfish are pretty hideous animals. There are over 200 species of them, and they generally live in the deep waters of the Atlantic and Antarctic oceans, sometimes at depths of up to a mile.

In some species, the males and females look and act drastically different from one another. The females have a dorsal spine that sticks out over their head like a fishing rod, which is where they get their name. At the tip of the spine is a luminous organ and this light lures prey close to their gigantic mouths. Their mouths are so big that they can swallow prey twice their size. Often, females are no bigger than a foot long, but some species are up to 3.3 feet long.

The males, on the other hand, are much smaller; they only grow to be a few inches long. You may be thinking that must make for some awkward mating, and you would be absolutely right. What happens is that the males bite the females. Over time, they fuse their faces to the female’s body and that is how he’ll live out the rest of his life. When the female releases her eggs, the male releases his sperm. So not only are Anglerfish ugly, but they’re also clingy. But we’re sure they have great personalities, just so funny, you guys. Give them a chance, you might like them.

7. Sarcastic Fringehead

Sarcastic Fringeheads live in a depth range from 10 to 240 feet off the coast of California. Usually, they live in rocky cervices and shells, and only their head is exposed. The Sarcastic Fringehead has two traits that would be horrifying in a neighbor or a roommate: they are very territorial, and can’t see very well. If an animal, or a human hand, gets too close to their home, the Fringehead will open its mouth really wide and expose it’s fangs, making it look a lot like the Predator. If this doesn’t scare away the potential predator, the Fringehead will attack. Since they don’t have good eyesight, they will attack anything they feel threatened by. This includes animals that are much bigger than them, including humans.

The Fringehead also has one of the most unusual ways in the animal kingdom to settle territorial disputes. If a Fringehead moves into an area where another Fringehead is living, they “mouth wrestle” for the area. This involves them pressing their open mouths against one another, and the fish with the bigger mouth wins the territory. So if you have had to go through some hassle while moving into a new home, you should just be thankful that real estate deals among humans aren’t done in the same way as the Fringeheads. Well, that is, unless you have a gigantic mouth and love kissing strangers aggressively. Man, no wonder Mick Jagger lives so luxuriously.

6. Stargazer

Do you know someone in your life who doesn’t like to wade into the water at a beach because they can’t see the bottom, and don’t want to touch any marine life? Well, do not tell them about the Stargazer fish.

There are 51 species of Stargazers, and their most recognizable feature is that they have eyes on the top of their head. Another unique feature is that they bury themselves in the sand of the ocean floor, and wait to ambush prey. Some species also have traits that trick prey into getting closer. This includes gills that discharge water, which stirs up the sand. The Stargazer’s prey will think that it’s a smaller creature that they eat Then, once it moves in, the Stargazer sucks in the prey.

If the prospect of finding a grotesque face on the floor of the ocean staring up at you wasn’t frightening enough, the Stargazer also has venomous spines near its gills that can generate electric shocks that are about 50 volts. That means if you come across one, do not try to pick it up or step on it. The good news is that you probably won’t come across one, because they usually live in deep parts of the ocean. However, some have been seen in ankle deep water in Virginia Beach.

5. Alligator Gar

There are seven known species of Gar in the world, and the biggest is the Alligator Gar. They are scaly fish that are six feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. They have a long, flat mouth, similar to an alligator (hence the name), which is full of incredibly sharp teeth. They are found in lakes, bayous, and bays in North and Central America.

While they look vicious and are as big as a large man, there are no confirmed incidents of Alligator Gar attacking humans. However, they do pose another risk to humans besides biting. Their eggs are poisonous if they are ingested. So if someone offers some Alligator Gar caviar at a party, you may want to pass.

4. Great Barracuda

Great Barracudas are found in tropical waters throughout the world, and are large fish that can be over five feet long and weigh over 100 pounds. They have two rows of razor sharp teeth that they use to rip apart larger prey. Another notable trait that makes them frightening is that they move pretty fast: they can reach speeds over 35 miles per hour. For some perspective, the fastest human swimmer, Michael Phelps, only reaches speeds of about 4.4 miles per hour.

Humans being attacked by Great Barracudas are incredibly rare, but it has been known to happen. They are responsible for at least two deaths in the United States, one in 1947 and another in 1957. There was another attack in 1960, where a diver was bit twice and needed 31 stitches to close the wounds. However, beyond that, barracudas generally leave humans alone. We can only assume it’s because they really appreciate Heart recording a bitchin’ song about them.

3. Reef Stonefish

Reef Stonefish live in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, and they get their name because they have camouflage skin that makes them look like reefs or rocks. Often they are just over a foot long, but there are reports of monster ones, about 20 inches long, being found in the wild.

Why the Reef Stonefish appears so high on this list is because they are considered the most poisonous fish in the world. The venom is transmitted by 13 spines in the dorsal fin, so people are usually stung when they accidentally step on one. Before the arrival of Europeans in Australia, there were several deaths caused by the fish. An antivenom was developed in 1959, so no deaths have occurred since then. However, a dozen people are stung every year and the stings are quite painful. The venom has both cardiovascular and neuromuscular toxins, meaning it will affect your muscle and cardiovascular system. Supposedly, the pain is immediate and intense. Some people have asked for limbs to be amputated because the pain got to be so bad. One victim said:

“I got spiked on the finger by a Stonefish in Australia. Never mind a bee sting; Imagine having each knuckle, then the wrist, elbow and shoulder being hit in turn with a sledgehammer over the course of about an hour. Then about an hour later imagine taking a real kicking to both kidneys for about 45 minutes so that you couldn’t stand or straighten up. I was late 20s, pretty fit physically and this was the tiniest of nicks. Got sensation back in my finger after a few days but had recurrent kidney pains periodically for several years afterwards.”

In case that story didn’t make it clear, if you’re in the waters or reefs of Australia, watch where you step.

2. Goliath Tigerfish

With a name that contains the words “Goliath” and “Tiger” you have to know that theGoliath Tigerfish is a sea creature that you don’t want to mess with. The fish is found in several rivers in Africa, and according to locals, they are the only fish that aren’t afraid of crocodiles. Supposedly, they even take bites out of them.

The biggest one ever found was 5 feet long and 154 pounds, but it’s believed that there are larger ones out in the wild. They have 32 jagged, razor-sharp teeth that are up to an inch long and when they bite, they can cut cleanly through prey. They also move quickly and are one of the fastest fish in the rivers.

Besides their speed, they have other senses that help make them fierce hunters. They can sense vibrations in the water, and they have excellent eye sight. They find prey in turbulent waters and since they are strong swimmers, they simply eat the weaker fish that are struggling with the current. Encountering one Goliath Tigerfish sounds terrifyingenough, but it’s even worse because they travel in packs (yeah, we know fish travel in schools, but that’s not as intimidating, OK?).

There are several stories of people being attacked by Goliath Tigerfish, leaving peoplewithout fingers, and in one case, a woman’s Achilles was cut. Another story involves people disappearing after falling off a riverboat. However, none of the attacks have ever been confirmed.

1. Geographic Cone Snail

Geographic Cone Snails are probably the least intimidating looking sea creature on this list, but they are probably the most dangerous. They are found in the reefs of the Indo-Pacific and sport six inch shells that have an intricate brown-and-white pattern.

The snails have teeth, which they fire off like harpoons and are full of a powerful venom called Conotoxin. Once a fish is hit, it becomes instantly paralyzed. The venom is also quite harmful to humans and there is no antivenom. What happens is that the venom spreads, paralyzing the body, including the diaphragm, which stops the person’s breathing. The only treatment for someone stung by a Geographic Cone Snail is to keep them alive and wait for the venom to leave their body. Sometimes this can take several hours… or it can take several weeks. Unfortunately, not everyone lasts that long. In fact, Geographic Cone Snails are responsible for dozens of deaths over the past century.

What’s interesting about the venom is that it’s a unique combination of compounds, and there are proteins in it that may be incredibly effective in pain-killing drugs. Studies have shown that it can be 10,000 times more potent than morphine and doesn’t have any of morphine’s side-effects.


Horrific Sea Creatures

– Action Video!

Desert Oddities – WIF Geography

Leave a comment

Strange Things

Found

in the Desert

Deserts are nature’s perfect hiding places for strange things. The climate can be so hostile to traverse that few people will risk dying after a few hours exposure in the hopes of finding something worthwhile. The lack of even basic of life forms, like bacteria in some deserts, mean that bizarre and mysterious objects can be preserved much longer and more often than normal.

 The extreme environment is also good for creating all sorts of novel flora and fauna. For unsavory types, the desert is perfect for doing nefarious deeds, where they imagine there wouldn’t be prying eyes to worry about. So let’s search the sands, seeking something strange.

10. Chinese Desert Patterns

In 2011, Google Earth users found objects in Gobi Desert areas of China’s Xinjiang and Gansu provinces that made the supposedly paranormal crop circles look downright quaint. While a few large buildings were quickly identified, the more intriguing and seemingly haphazardly designed collections of white lines carved into the ground defied any immediate explanation and came off as especially suspicious for having been made in remote areas. These were not small objects, either.

The Guardian reported that some stretched out for as much as roughly half a mile to 1.15 miles.

The answer turned out to be a little ingenious but relatively benign. They’re used by the Chinese government to orient their spy satellites and calibrate their lenses. Knowing the relative distances and angles for different portions of the pattern allows the satellite operators to know if they’re reading certain distances properly or how well the focus is working. These, it should be noted, are not secret satellites, and it’s not a practice that’s unique to China, either. There’s one in Casa Grande, Arizona that serves the same purpose and which dates back to the 1960s.

9. Ancient Egyptian Burial Boat

For ancient Egyptians, it was fairly common practice to include a vehicle of some kind in the tomb. The famous tomb of King Tut had six chariots in it. Others favored putting boats in theirs, and this was hardly restricted to the elites. Even the peasant class would put cheap but affordable reed boats in their graves with them. But one that was discovered in the Saharan desert after 4,500 years in the sands of the Abusir Necropolis was quite baffling.

This vessel, unearthed in 2016, was sixty feet in length, only about six feet shorter than a warship of the time. It was made of especially high-quality wood, hence it still being relatively intact when it was excavated. What was odd was that it wasn’t buried in the grave of a noble, or a general, or anyone like that. Instead, the person entombed with it was a commoner. How could a peasant have afforded such a boat? How could the family have possibly afforded to pay to have the equivalent of a destroyer buried with him, or even have it transported inland? The answer for people curious about the true nature of the past is frustratingly lost to the sand swirls history.

8. Desert Graveyard for Sea Mammals

Speaking of graveyards, the mystery boat is hardly alone in terms of finding surprising burial sites in the sands. In the Atacama Desert in Chile, there’s a hill called Cerro Ballena (“Whale Hill”) forty meters above sea level that, during roadwork in 2010, was found to contain fossils of forty whales along with a collection of other marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, not to mention some fish related to swordfish. It initially seemed like an amazing case of mass fossilization: How could dozens of animals of various species have all died at once, and in so many cases have been preserved?

The most accepted explanation is that the numerous mammals and fish were deposited over time, and that the hill in question happened to be a place where the bodies were washed up, only to have nature preserved them for six to nine million years. The rather worrying suspect of the deaths that left them to washed up on land was a spontaneous algae infection. True or not, it certainly left an unusual resting place for quite a menagerie.

7. Sudden Tunisian Desert Lake


Desert Oddities

– WIF Geography

Prehistoric Man and His Petrifying Pets – WIF World

Leave a comment

Terrifying Animals

That Lived Alongside

Prehistoric Man

hunting-the-cave-bear

Hunting the Cave Bear by Zdenek Burian

Our species, Homo sapiens, have only been around for about as long as a blink of an eye in terms of Earth’s history. It’s believed that the Earth formed over 4.6 billion years ago, and the first humans evolved about 200,000 years ago in Africa.

 In order to survive so that modern humans could flourish, our prehistoric ancestors had to fight off and hunt animals that were much bigger and far stronger than them. These are 10 horrifying animals that they may have encountered as humans migrated all over the world.

10. The Columbian Mammoth

Columbian mammoths were one of the biggest mammals to ever walk on Earth, and they were cousin to the more famous woolly mammoths. Columbian mammoths were found all the way from modern-day Canada to Mexico, while woolly mammoths, who were smaller, were found in northern Asia, Russia, and Canada. Another major difference is that Columbian mammoths had much less hair, so they looked closer to modern day elephants, but bigger with much longer tusks.

Columbian mammoths were 12 to 14 feet tall and weighed anywhere between 5.5 and 11 tons. The Columbian mammoth also had the biggest tusks out of the elephant family. They were, on average, 12 feet long, spiraled, and very strong. They would have been used to fight off predators, including humans.

9. The Ground Sloth

We know that this list is about terrifying animals, and sloths are anything but terrifying. However, their ancient ancestors, ground sloths, were a bit more intimidating than their modern day counterpart because they were some of the biggest mammals to ever live.

There were several different subspecies of ground sloths and the ones that lived in North America were the size of rhinos and humans most likely dined on them. However, the biggest ground sloths, the Megatherium, which lived in South America up until about 10,000 years ago, were as big as an elephant. From head to tail, they were 20 feet long and weighed up to four tons. Also, because they had sharp teeth and long claws, there is some speculation that they may have been carnivores.

Ultimately, the last species of ground sloths lived until about 4,200 years ago on theCaribbean islands. When humans arrived on the islands, it was the final death blow to the ground sloths.

8. Gigantopithecus

The biggest known primate to ever walk the earth was the Gigantopithecus, which is a relative of orangutans. They were 10 feet tall, and they weighed around 1,100 pounds.

One thing you may notice is that the Gigantopithecus looks a lot like the mythical Sasquatch. However, before anyone begins to speculate, the Gigantopithecus died out 100,000 years ago. So unless a group of 10-foot, half ton apes actively hid themselves from humans for one thousand centuries, it doesn’t seem likely that people have seen Gigantopithecus and thought it was Bigfoot.

The reason they died out after living on Earth for six to nine million years is because they needed a lot of food, like fruits, to sustain their giant bodies, which wasn’t a problem when their home in Southeast Asia was tropical forests. But then, because of weather changes their forests started to disappear and they became dry savannas, meaning there was less food and the giant primate just died out.

Of course, Gigantopithecus may be familiar to those people who saw the very excellent live adaptation of The Jungle Book, because King Louie is a Gigantopithecus.

7. The Cave Hyena

Cave Hyenas, also known as spotted coyotes, were about double the size of their relatives, the laughing coyote. They weighed up to 285 pounds, they were about three feet tall, and were nearly five feet long. According to calculations based on fossils, one cave hyena was strong enough to take down a 5-year-old mastodon that weighed a ton.

However, they lived in packs, sometimes consisting of 30 coyotes. These made them much more effective hunters, and they could take down a nine-year-old mastodon that weighed nine tons. Needless to say, a small family of humans would not want to come across a pack of hungry hyenas.

Their population started to dwindle about 20,000 years ago, before going extinct somewhere between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. One reason may have been humans, because we competed with hyenas for cave space during the last ice age.

6. Smilodon

Saber-toothed cats are often given the very misleading title of saber-tooth tigers. It’s misleading because while they are part of the Felidae family, they weren’t closelyrelated to tigers.

Saber-toothed cats first appeared 42 million years ago. There were many species of them and most of them had died before humans first appeared. However, it’s believed that humans living in the Americas could have come across two different species of saber-toothed cats, Smilodon fatalis and Smilodon populator. They ranged in size and they could be as big as an African lion, which is the biggest wild lion living today. They also could weigh as much as the biggest subspecies of tiger, the Siberian tiger.

With their size came great strength. The smilodons could take down much bigger animals than themselves, like mammoths. Often, they would wait for prey to get close and then launch a surprise attack.

Out of the feline family, the smilodon didn’t have the strongest bite. According to calculations, it only had about one-third of the bite strength of modern lions. However, it had a really flexible jaw and could open its mouth 120 degrees, compared to a lion, which maxes out at 60 degrees.

The smilodon also had fairly weak teeth, but researchers think to compensate for that, they developed the strongest forearms of all cats. It’s believed that they used this strength to hold down their prey and then stabbed their fangs through the prey’s neck. Another theory is that the Smilodon repeatedly stabbed the prey with their fangs after it was held down. No matter how they killed their prey, a human did not want to find itself under the forearms of a smilodon.

5. The Dire Wolf

Fans of Game of Thrones may recognize Dire Wolves, but unlike many other animals on the show, Dire Wolves were real.

They first appeared about a quarter of a million years ago. They were similar tomodern-day gray wolves but sturdier. The gray wolf, which is the largest living wolf, is about 4 feet to 6.6 feet long and weighs 40 to 170 pounds, while Dire Wolves were about 5 feet long and weighed up to 200 pounds.

Dire Wolves, which were found all over North and South America, had a bite force that was 29 percent stronger than gray wolves. Their diet consisted of mostly horses.

They became extinct like so a lot other carnivores, at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago.

4. The American Lion

Like a lot of other animals on this list, the American Lion is horribly named because it’s not a lion at all. Its scientific name is Panthera atrox, and as it suggests, the American Lion is more closely related to panthers than lions. One part about their name that is correct is that they lived in modern-day America starting about 330,000 years ago.

One notable aspect that our ancient ancestors would have noticed right away if they encountered an American Lion is that it was huge. In fact, it is the biggest known wild cat in history. On average, they weighed 772 pounds, which is 25 percent larger thanan African Lion. The American Lion was also incredibly strong. They were powerful enough to bring down a bison, meaning a small group of humans would have been in trouble had they encountered one of these lions.

They died around 11,000 years ago around the end of the last ice age.

3. The Megalania

Megalania was a monitor lizard, which is the same lizard family as the Komodo dragon, and it lived in Australia until about 50,000 years ago; around the same time that humans migrated there.

The size of Megalania is a highly debated topic. Originally, it was thought to be 23 feet long, while other estimates put its size more in the range of 11 feet long.

Regardless, they were bigger than Komodo dragons, but like the Komodo dragon, the Megalania also had poisonous glands. It would simply bite its prey and if it didn’t die of blood loss, then it would be slowly poisoned to death and the Meaglania would feast on its carcass.

Today, Komodo dragons are considered a very dangerous animal. They are fast, strong, and poisonous. They are also on average 6.5 feet long. The Megalania could have been four times that size; not exactly something a human, either prehistoric or modern, would want to bump into.

2. The Short-Faced Bear

Bears first appeared about 40 million years ago, and several subspecies have evolved over the years. One that our prehistoric ancestors would have encountered is the short-faced bear.

Short-faced bears (Arctodus pristinus) were five feet tall at shoulder height, but when they stood up, they were 12 feet tall and with its arms raised it was 14 feet tall. It also had the ability to run on two legs. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, the short-faced bear also had long limbs, and could run faster than a grizzly, possibly reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour. That means even Usain Bolt, who was clocked in at 28 miles per hour, would be dinner for this beast.

The Giant Short-Faced Bear was one of the biggest carnivores in North America. They first appeared about 800,000 years ago and they became extinct about 11,600 years ago.

1. The Quinkana

According to fossils, the Quinkana first evolved about 1.6 million years ago and they lived in modern day Australia. They were huge members of the crocodile family and they could grow to be 23 feet long. Just for some perspective, the longest crocodile in captivity was Lolong and he was 20 feet long.

A major difference between the Quinkana and many other crocodiles is that they were land dwellers. Since they lived on land, there was two major physical traits that the Quinkana developed. The first was that it had long, powerful legs. It would hunt its prey by chasing after them for long distances. The second difference is that crocodiles use their teeth to latch on and drag their prey into the water and drown it. The Quinkanas’ teeth, on the other hand, were much sharper and they were used for cutting.

They died out about 50,000 years ago, about 10,000 years after humans first arrived in Australia.


Prehistoric Man and His Petrifying Pets

wif-global

– WIF World