World Wildlife Day is here, and it is time to celebrate the incredible wild heritage of the Earth. While behavioral studies of the existing wildlife provide insights into conservation, understanding how extinct species thrived millions of years ago is equally important for studying animal evolution.
On this World Wildlife Day, let’s time travel into the prehistoric era and be amazed by the behavior and traits of some of the quirky extinct creatures that roamed our planet.
The five eyed invertebrate
If you think today’s anthropods are weird, imagine how their evolutionary cousins would have been strange! This small marine arthropod named Opabinia regalis lived around 508 million years ago during the Cambrian period. But it had characteristics that made it unlike any modern arthropods like crabs and spiders.
The creature had a v-shaped, double fantail with two pairs of legs on each segment. The upper pair held respiratory gills, and the lower pair was used for walking. Moreover, this not so mythical creature had five eyes and a long, striped snout that resembled a vacuum cleaner hose or an elephant’s trunk, with a clawed structure.
And if that’s not strange enough, the Opabinia’s mouth was under its head, behind the snout, and pointed backwards.
No, we haven’t pulled out the description from a Walt Disney movie’s character!
A toothed bird that could stick out its tongue
Birds typically lack the muscular, agile tongues that we humans possess, although a few birds like the woodpecker do have fleshy tongues to scoop out the food.
However, around 120 million years ago, in what is now northeastern China, there lived a bird, which scientists have named Brevirostruavis macrohyoideusthat had this unique skill of sticking out its tongue.
The extant birds that can stick their tongues out have especially long epibranchial bones, as well as elongated beaks. However, the Brevirostruavis fossil lacked these bones.
What’s even surprising is that the bird had a short, pointed snout lined with peg-shaped teeth. Bizarre much?
With such peculiar traits, Brevirostruavis may have taken advantage of food sources that other birds were unable to access.
A whale that walked on four legs
What weighed roughly 600 kg, around 10 feet long, four-legged, walked on land and swam in the vast oceans? You’d be surprised to hear that the answer is a whale! Phiomycetus anubis was a whale from the Eocene epoch between 56 million and 33.9 million years ago that fits this strange description.
This beast is believed to have had a head that resembled a jackal with powerful jaws. These unique traits of the skull and mandibles indicate that they were designed for a robust raptorial eating style which would have made it an apex predator at the time, similar to today’s killer whale.
A fish that would put the jaws’ shark to shame
The Dunkleosteus was a 20 ft long fish that lived 360 million years ago. It weighed more than 1 ton, and its abilities would even put the most aggressive extant sharks to shame!
Its beak-like mouth was designed to bite through an armoured body like its own, indicating it may have been a cannibalistic species. Its powerful jaws had two sets of fangs, and the jaw could snap shut in a matter of milliseconds.
‘Dunk’ was so bizarre that it has even been featured on Animal Planet’s “River Monsters” and “Animal Armageddon!”
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