We’re all familiar with some of the great extinct animals out there, such as mighty dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex; but what about nature’s more unusual long-gone creatures? For this installment, we’re turning back the clocks a bit to explore a lost world of the most unusual animals that have faced extinction and lost.
The name is not entirely too far off from what you may feel you’re doing, should you ever come across a long lost relative of this extinct animal. The Hallucigenia may initially look threatening with its series of what looks like spikes on its back, but these jutting features are thought to be ornamental or protective scales; but that’s not even the worst part. Looking at this creature, it’s quite difficult to determine which is the head and which is the rear as there barely seems to be any coherent structural make-up to it. The abundance of appendages, like its 16 legs and multiple scales, help to make this one of the most unusual creatures in this world.
Some extinct animals and creatures are what nightmares are made of. Such is the case with this five-eyed stem-arthropod. The Opabinia may have been known for its abundance of eyes, but these are far from the only unusual features on this sea creature. A rear-facing mouth, located on the underside of the Opabinia, was fed by a 2.54 centimeter or 1 inch proboscis that was likely used to scavenge food from the seabed. The alien-like Opabinia grew to about 10 centimeters or 3.9 inches, its size supporting the fact that it was highly unlikely to be a predator to any other sea animal. By the end of the Cabrian period, the Opabnia had disappeared entirely.
If the Jigsaw Killer were to begin breeding sharks, the serial killer would likely breed something along the lines of a Helicoprion. This terrifying looking fish is actually not a shark, belonging instead to an order of cartilaginous fish, the Eugeneodontida. Like it’s underwater ancestor, this 290 million year old fish has an unsettling arrangement of teeth. Initial reconstructions believed that the fish’s lower jaw extends below its body and is long enough to curl into a whip-like spiral. A partial jaw reconstruction done in 2013 after the discovery of crushed cartilage, led to the modern belief that the tooth whorl sits in a shorter lower jaw rather than as a toothed whip. This also negates early thought that the whorl could have been found on the snout, dorsal fin, or tail of the Helicoprion.
It’s hard not to look at this extinct subspecies of the common zebra and not imagine it being a small horse with a zebra mask on. These strange equidae once roamed the lands of South Africa before the Dutch settled the lands. As the 2.5 meter or 8.5 feet long mammal foraged the same plant life as domesticated animals and provided an abundance of meat and useful skin, the settlers were quick to hunt the helpless beast. In 1883, the last of the Quagga died in captivity, despite continuous breeding efforts that remained unsuccessful. In 1987, a selective breeding program began to try and revive the Quagga, and though zebras were bread with the look of the extinct animal, the genetic make-up is completely different.
Gophers aren’t really something new and unusual that we deal with, but imagine if the common gopher was given small horns atop its head. The stubby skeletal protrusions served no real known purpose; though it is likely they had something to do with defense. The horns are placed in such a way and are thick enough to indicate that they were present to protect the Ceratogaulus’ vulnerable spots, such as it’s head and neck. It’s questionable how effective they really were in a defensive position, as this tiny rodent died out sometime after the Pleistocene era. This creature is also the smallest known mammal to have had horns.
During the Cretaceous Period, a theropoda roamed that was different from most others. Unlike most theropada, the Therizinosaurus was known as a herbivore or omnivore, but don’t let its diet lead you to believe it was a pushover. The large creature may have grazed mostly on plant life, but it was equipped with two long arms that ended in shredding talons. Though the arms were likely used to pull branches down, the sharp claws made for a great defense against gutsy predators. Sizing of the Therizinosaurus has been determined to be up to 10 meters or 33 feet in length, based on several incomplete skeletons. It is believed the claws of this large creature could reach up to 1 meter or 3.28 feet in length. It’s probably a good thing this creature died out some 70 million years ago.
We know that nature’s most terrifying creations hide within the deep blue sea, and things weren’t entirely too different 390 million years ago. In 2007, a 46 centimeter or 18 inch long claw was unearthed near Prum, Germany by Simon Braddy. The claw belonged to a Jaekelopterus, a species of sea scorpion, an extinct arthropod that disappeared during the Permian – Triassic extinction event. The Jaekelopterus is the largest known sea scorpion, with measurements reaching up to a whopping 2.5 meters or 8 feet long. Contrary to what the name would have you think, the oversized underwater scorpion was thought to dwell deep within rivers and lakes rather than the deep blue sea.
Should we ever mate a gorilla with a horse and sloth, chances are we might get something that looks a bit like the Chalicotherium. Though this prehistoric mammal may look intimidating, coming in at a bulky and muscular 2.6 meters or 8 feet tall, Chalicotherium is a part of a genus of herbivorous odd-toed ungulates in the Chalicotheriidae family. The Chalicotherium sported two large forearms, used primarily to grab and pull on higher branches. The disproportionate size from front to back suggested that the Chalicotherium would walk on its knuckles and sit back on its much smaller hind legs to feed. The name Chalicotherium translates to pebble beast and refers to teeth found in 1833, which were said to be pebble-like in nature. The 8-foot tall herbivore lived from the late Oligocene to the lower Pilocene period before vanishing from existence.
There is still some figuring out left to do over this tiny reptile, such as what purpose the 7 appendages that sprouted from its back were used for. Initially, it was believed that there were two rows of these appendages that allowed the tiny lizard to glide; but further studies point to just one row that stands straight up from the back. So, if not for gliding, what purpose could these extensions serve? Protection against predators is a popular theory, though it’s still up for debate as to whether the appendages are actually skeletal or if they were more like feathers or scales. As we are stuck hypothesizing based off of incomplete fossils and a low-quality skeleton, only Longisquama’s Triassic brethren know the truth – and they’re unlikely to let us know anytime soon, as they’ve been extinct for an estimated 225 million years.
At one time, New Zealand’s oversized species of bird had only one natural predator, the Haast’s Eagle. Enter the presence of man, the Maori people, and suddenly the moa were dropping like flies, falling victim to hunting and deforestation. This wingless, flightless bird was wiped clean from the planet by 1440 AD, its oddly shaped, yet still slightly majestic form eradicated entirely with help from the Maori. Moa grew to a heigh of nearly 3.6 meters or 12 feet in height, and could weigh up to 230 kilograms or 510 pounds. If you’re at all disappointed to not have seen this massive bird in the flesh, then you’re in luck, as the moa has been looked at as a potential cloning candidate.