14 Prehistoric Creatures You’ll Be Glad Are Extinct
If you’re afraid of big bugs and bloodthirsty predators, you’ll be glad none of these creatures are going to turn up in your backyard.
Courtesy Andrés Rinderknecht
How do you feel about rodents? Get a little creeped out by mice and rats? If so, the Josephoartigasia monesi might be the reason you’re glad you live now instead of 3 million years ago. At about 2200 pounds (about the size of a modern bull), the South American animal was the biggest rodent we’ve ever found remains of. It had giant front teeth that researchers think it probably used like elephants use their tusks, to root around in the dirt for food and maybe to fight off predators, according to a 2015 article in the Journal of Anatomy.
Courtesy James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Institution
If a melee of drowning carnivores doesn’t freak you out, how about a 40-foot snake? Researchers have had a hard time figuring out just how big Titanoboa was when it lived in South America about 58 million years ago, just a few million years after non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, because they haven’t ever found all the vertebrae of a single animal in one place—and it would have had an awful lot of vertebrae! Using what they’ve got, they estimate that the snake would have weighed about a ton, according to a 2012 article in Smithsonian. For comparison, modern anacondas can grow up to 29 feet long and weigh 550 pounds. You won’t believe that these strange animals are actually real and exist today.
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
Terrifying animals didn’t occupy only the ground and the water—imagine a predatory creature the size of a giraffe with a 33-foot wingspan flying through the air. Quetzalcoatlus northropi lived during the Cretaceous period, alongside dinosaurs, and might even have eaten smaller ones. A theory detailed in a Wired magazine article in 2013 suggests that they mostly hunted by walking around like a stork, plucking plants and small animals up off the ground with their 6-foot beaks. But when they took to the air, researchers think they were graceful and powerful fliers—Quetzalcoatlus had hollow bones like modern birds, so where giraffes weigh as much as 2,800 pounds, these creatures only carried about 550 pounds up into the air, where they might have been able to fly and glide for days at a time. Fossils show that they were covered with hair, which probably helped them regulate their body temperature during flight.
Courtesy Kristen Grace
Quetzalcoatlus wasn’t a bird, even though it could fly, but there was a bird that was so deadly and frightening that it was named after fear: the terror bird. And these birds didn’t even fly! Terror birds, which got as big as 10 feet tall, developed in South America around 60 million years ago, during a period when there were few other predators on the continent (there were wolves and saber-toothed cats in North America, but there wasn’t a land bridge through Central America yet). Terror birds occupied the top tier of the food chain, using their large hooked beaks to kill prey until they went extinct around 2 million years ago. Read up on the 14 animals that could disappear in your lifetime.