10 July 2010

10 Deadliest Creatures of the Ancient World

You may think life is tough, with all of your chores, responsibilities, debts and other lifestyle clutter but consider yourself lucky that you were born in a time where that’s all you have to worry about! For most of history the world was roamed by creatures that’d happily make a meal (or even light snack) out of you. From the dawn of time until the age of Humanity, these are 10 of the most horrifying creatures to roam the ancient Earth.

10. Haast’s Eagle

Definitely the most modern species on our list, the Haast’s Eagle was only killed off about 600 years ago when its primary food source, the moas, were hunted to extinction by humans. The species is the largest eagle known to have existed.

Despite weighing up to 25 pounds, this eagle had a relatively short wingspan (3 meters) allowing it to hunt for prey in the dense forests of New Zealand. Their prey, moas, were 500 pound flightless birds but despite the 15x size difference the eagles had very little difficulty taking them down. The Haast’s Eagle would seize its prey by the pelvis with the talons of one foot and would kill with a blow to the head or neck with the other. Estimated to have struck their targets at 80kph their preys would likely never know what hit them. Humans, having an upward gait like the moas were also occasionally targeted by these birds with lethal results.

9. Prehistoric Pitbulls

Predating even wolves, the Epicyon haydeni was the largest canid to have ever lived.

Built for survival, this ancient dog species lasted over 15 million years before dying out around 5.3 million years ago. These antique predators weighed in around 220 pounds and were over 3 feet tall. It’s thought they hunted in packs similar to wolves, often taking down large predators and establishing themselves as one of the top carnivores in North America during their reign.

8. Utahraptor

This relative of the Velociraptor has much in common with its more famous brethren with one major difference – it is over twice the size!

The Utahraptor is the largest known member of the dinosaur family Dromaeosauridae and stalked the plains and forests of (surprise!) Utah to the jungles of South America from 132 to 100 million years ago. Although it had long grasping hands and razor sharp teeth its primary weapons were 9 inch long talons located on both feet. It was so dependent on these massive claws that they evolved the ability to be raised or pointed backwards to avoid self-injury and flex forward as the raptor kicked its prey.

7. Crikey! That’s a Real Crocodile!

The Amazon is known for its deadly creatures, 8 million years ago things weren’t much different.

The purussaurus was arguably the pinnacle of crocodilian evolution, estimated to be approximately 12 meters long and is thought to have even survived the mass extinction that eradicated the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, not much else is known about the biology and lifestyle of this creature as all that has been found so far are skull fragments and the occasional rib. They did likely hunt vertebrates though, as ancient turtles have been unearthed bearing bite marks from these ferocious beats.

6. Giant Snakes

What was 43 feet long and weighed up to 2,500 pounds? Phallic jokes aside, the Titanoboa Cerrejonensis was the kind of snake phobias are born from.

As long as a school bus and heavier than a small car, this massive serpent haunted the jungles of South America between 55 and 65 million years ago. If you want a sense of their scale, it is the same length as a fully stretched out tyrannosaurus! Its ability to grow so large served as proof that the Equator was even hotter in the past than it is today, making its job of finding prey at watering holes a lot easier. It’s diet? Quite possibly crocodiles similar to the ones you read about in the last section!

5. Pterodactyls the Size of Jetfighters

With a wingspan of 10-11 meters (33-36 feet), the Quetzalcoatlus Northropi was perhaps the largest animal to ever take flight.

Quetzalcoatlus Feeding

Dominating the skies between 65.5-70 million years ago even the shadow of this winged behemoth likely inspired terror into their prey. Although it is difficult to estimate their body mass (nothing remotely like them still exist) it is predicted that they weighed in between 200-500 pounds. The genus name refers to the Aztec “feathered serpent” god Quetzalcoatl and they likely did most of their hunting on the ground, picking off “small” prey and scavenging on the bodies of dead sauropods.

4. Gigantic Raptors

Don’t let its feathers and almost turkey-like appearance get your guard down – the gigantoraptor was likely an intelligent, cruelly efficient, pack hunter over 8 meters long and 4 meters tall.

Capping at around 2 metric tonnes this dinosaur, unearthed in 2005, literally redefined the entire oviraptor family tree; prior to the discovery of the gigantoraptor its largest relative was the size of an emu! It roamed ancient China over 85 million years ago. There is some speculation that it could in fact be an omnivore due to the fact that it has the small head and long neck of a herbivore but the claws and musculature of a carnivore.

3. Massive Sharks

Imagine a shark big enough to eat Jaws as an appetizer… meet the Megalodon.

Megalodon Tooth

Between 25 and 1.5 million years ago the world’s oceans were a lot more dangerous than they are today. One of the reasons is the megalodon which, at over 20 meters,was the largest known shark in the history of our planet. Displacing an astounding 103 metric tonnes and bearing a jaw gape between 1 and 2 meters wide it is no surprise that this super predator often preyed on whales. With the decline of large prey towards the ice ages there just wasn’t enough food to sustain such large predators and shark size rapidly diminished to the proportions we find today.

2. Spinosaurus

If you thought the Tyrannosaurus Rex was the biggest and meanest dinosaur out there it’s time you met his bigger, distant, cousin the Spinosaurus.

Stretching up to 18 meters from head to tail (frequently on its hind legs) and weighing up to 9 tonnes, this massive carnivore roamed the grasslands of North Africa from 106-95 million years ago. This creature was so massive that even its spikes were over 5 1/2 feet tall. As you can imagine, any hunter this size must’ve taken a lot of prey to satiate. They have been called the Cretaceous equivalent of a grizzly bear, largely feeding on fish but tackling other prey opportunistically.

1. The Hominid Gang

If you thought your in-laws were bad, it’s a good thing you haven’t met your ancestors yet.

Hominid on the Hunt

Although Homo Sapiens is now the only surviving hominid left on Earth, for most of history things were a lot more crowded. Long before we’d settled down into our agricultural civilizations our species had transitioned between several forms. Throughout our evolution branches of humanoids would often segregate and diverge from our path onto completely new and exciting ones (like the “Hobbits” of Flores). It is even theorized that ancient homo sapiens had a role in the erradication of our most recent cousins, the neanderthals. Regardless of whether or not we out-competed neanderthals for resources or even hunted them off the face of the Earth, plenty of other species have been eradicated via these means. Though lacking in physiological strength, hominids would find their success by hunting in packs and by altering their natural environment (either creating tools or destroying the habitats of their prey). As their grasp for modifying the natural world expanded (domestication of fire/livestock, forging of metals, etc) , so did their impact on the globe. This constant adaptability has secured them the most dominant position in the global food chain and has made them the deadliest creatures on the face of the Earth.

Written by: Ben Lovatt [www.eearth.tv]

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