Cenozoic Shock Part 3: Sivatherium
One of the most iconic of all modern mammals is the giraffe. Its long neck and legs combined with its spotted hide make it stand out instantly. Like many modern mammals, though, giraffes (and their relatives, okapis), are one existing branch of a whole slew of now-extinct animals. One relative of the giraffe, Sivatherium, is a particularly cool-looking animal. Its name actually means king-of-beast beast, honoring Shiva, hindu god. Purely for this reason, I am going to choose to talk about it.
Sivatherium looked a bit like extant okapis, albeit a ton larger. It was 7 ft 4 in (2.2 m) tall at the shoulder, 10 feet (3 m) in total height, and weighed up to 500 kilograms in weight. This enormous (compared to the okapi) animal also resembled a giraffe in that its head was adorned with ossicones, but its ossicones were wide and large, resembling the antlers of a moose. Under these elaborate horns, though, one can see small ossicones like those of a modern giraffe. To support its extremely heavy ossicones and skull, its shoulders and neck were very thick and powerful.
During the Pliestocene epoch, Sivatherium ranged from Africa (home of the giraffe and okapi) all the way to India. This was its heyday, before the rise of humanity. Interestingly enough, ancient rock paintings in the Sahara desert greatly resemble this animal, meaning that it may have become extinct as recently as 8,000 BCE.
Other evidence has been found of Sivatherium’s recent temporal range, including a Sumerian figurine found in Iraq that also appears to depict one of these animals. Said figurine (shown above) remarkably appears to date back to only about 2,800 BCE, showing that these giraffids may have stayed around long enough to witness the rise of human civilization. PSYCH! The Sumerian figurine wasn’t complete. After its supposed Sivatherium identity was tacked on, a pair of horn tips were also recovered, making it more possible that this “sivathere” figurine actually represented a fallow deer, albeit one sculpted by someone without much knowledge of anatomy. I do still believe that those rock paintings represent Sivatherium, though future hypotheses could easily dethrone me in this regard.
So yeah. Sivatherium did survive into modern history to some extent, but not as far as that Sumerian figurine would indicate. I like Sivatherium a lot, so this post was cool. What next, guys? Your pick.
Aurochs illustrated by phan-tom:
“In case anyone is wondering what an Aurochs is, it’s the wild ancestor of modern day cattle. They went extinct in 1627.
I was reading about them on the internet a few years ago and one of the things I was surprised by is they were actually larger than almost all domestic cattle breeds. They came close to six feet at the shoulder.
There was a theory that the Aurochs could be selectively bred back into existence, since their genes are still in the domestic cattle, and a couple of German zoo keepers tried it back in the 1930’s 1940’s. They declared success after 12 years, but the animals didn’t have the height, and the horns weren’t pointed forward like an aurochs, along with a few other traits that were missing. People are still breeding, what became known as Heck cattle, today trying to come closer to the appearance of the aurochs. The tallest one so far is five foot three at the shoulder.
In January I read that a group of scientist in Holland were going to try the breeding back experiment again, but this time they have a map. A genome map to be exact. Maybe they’ll succeed this time.”
TED conference about bringing back extinct species
Dodo by Peter Schouten
“The Dodo’s external appearance is evidenced only by paintings and written accounts from the 17th century. Because these vary considerably, and because only a few sketches are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains a mystery.” Wikipedia
Neanderthal Greek Paradise Found
Anthropologists have discovered a beautiful Greek waterfront paradise once inhabited by generations of Neanderthals up to 100,000 years ago, according to a new study.
This particular population was based at what is known as The Kalamakia Middle Paleolithic Cave site on the Mani peninsula of southern Greece.
Previously, only one other Neanderthal tooth suggested that the now-extinct hominids settled in Greece.
These fellas, as you may recall from an earlier post of mine, are Stephens Island Wrens, the only known flightless passerine—and unfortunately extinct. Pretty happy with progress on this one too, so far—which is good, because these lovelies inspired me to do this whole thing in the first place. :) More Gouache! The empty space will eventually have type in it.
Giant Beaver (Castoroides spp.)
The giant beaver was a prehistoric species of beaver. It looked similar to modern beavers but, as the name implies, was considerably larger: it grew over 8 ft (2.4 m) in length — making it the largest rodent in North America during the last ice age and the largest known beaver. It weighed roughly 60 to 100 kg (130 to 220 lb), the size of a modern black bear…
(read more: Wikipedia)
painting by Charles R. Knight, 1904
Doing my usual yearly Thylacine research and giving myself the sads.
80 years since the last known capture, 77 since the last known death. What I wouldn’t give to see this marsupial brought back from extinction.
Tasmanian tiger too weak to hunt sheep
TASMANIAN TIGERS WERE INNOCENT of the crime that led many hunters to send them to extinction in the early 20th century, a study has revealed.
The iconic thylacine was mercilessly persecuted for allegedly killing sheep. But new research shows the carnivorous marsupial had jaws too weak to tackle anything much larger than a possum.
Scientists believe the thylacine’s inability to take down larger prey, together with loss of habitat, largely contributed to its downfall. The paid hunters who went gunning for the animal only finished what nature had started.
“Our research has shown that its rather feeble jaw restricted it to catching smaller, more agile prey,” says Dr Marie Attard, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). “That’s an unusual trait for a large predator like that, considering its substantial thirty-kilogram body mass and carnivorous diet.”
“As for its supposed ability to take prey as large as sheep, our findings suggest that its reputation was at best overblown. While there is still much debate about its diet and feeding behaviour, this new insight suggests that its inability to kill large prey may have hastened it on the road to extinction.”
The scientists measured stress patterns in the skulls of a thylacine and two of Australasia’s largest remaining marsupial predators, the Tasmanian devil and the spotted-tailed quoll. Of the three, the thylacine skull was by far the most stressed in response to simulations of struggling prey and tearing and pulling bites.
“By comparing the skull performance of the extinct thylacine with those of closely related, living species we can predict the likely body size of its prey,” says Dr Stephen Wroe, director of UNSW’s Computational Biomechanics Research Group. “We can be pretty sure that thylacines were competing with other marsupial carnivores to prey on smaller mammals, such as bandicoots, wallabies and possums.”
“Especially among large predators, the more specialised a species becomes the more vulnerable it is to extinction. Just a small disturbance to the ecosystem, such as those resulting from the way European settlers altered the land, may have been enough to tip this delicately poised species over the edge.”
(via Australian Geographic)
it could have tackled very young lambs though, surely?
Decades of study of the DNA patterns of modern Europeans suggests two major events in prehistory significantly affected the continent’s genetic landscape: its initial peopling by hunter-gatherers in Palaeolithic times (35,000 years ago) and a wave of migration by Near Eastern farmers some 6,000 years ago. (in the early Neolithic)