The giant wobat and Joseph the hamster. From the book “Museum of Prehistoric Animals”

Makhaon and Azbuka-Atticus publishers present Dutch author Lote Stegman’s book “Museum of Prehistoric Animals. Unicorns, mammoths, dinosaurs and other exhibits “(translated by I. Grivnin).

In the pages of the book you will get acquainted with animals that can not be found in our world today. Huge predatory fish, giant dinosaurs, unusual insects and huge reptiles – all of these creatures inhabited the planet in prehistoric times. now only fossil collections remind them. The memory of extinct animals is very important – by studying them, you can not only learn a lot of incredible facts about the animal world, but also find out how life on Earth evolved long before humans appeared. Walking through the halls of the museum, you will also meet the Ili pika, the rhino, the pangolin and other rare animals that live at the same time with us, but are on the verge of extinction and need the help of humans.

Lotte Stegman is a writer and journalist, author of Our Neighbors on the Planet. Wildlife stories. He visited natural history museums around the world, studied a huge number of fossils and consulted famous paleontologists. The illustrations were made by the artist Marike Nelissen, who recreated the appearance of the animals down to the smallest detail.

We suggest you read the descriptions of two ancient mammals.

giant wobat

Diphtheria Diprotodon optatum

Imagine a large animal covered in thick fur roaming the Australian outback, among tall grasses and light forest shrubs with long slender legs. No animal living on Australian soil could be compared in size to this creature. The female biped rarely walked alone: ​​she had a comfortable bag on her stomach, from which she looked at a tiny shaggy puppy.

Thus, since 1830, scientists have found fossil skulls, skeletons, wool prints and legs of ancient giants in Australia. Several hundred fossils have already been discovered. Have you ever heard of wombats? Like the koalas, which appeared a little later, they are distant descendants of bipeds. All these families belong to the group of marsupials. The small pouches spend the first weeks of their lives in a special deep “pocket” in their mother’s womb. There, children can get plenty of milk and grow up a little.

Was the temperament of the bipeds as soft as their fur? Modern wombat and koalas, by the way, sometimes bite people who want to caress their backs. To pet a Diprotodon, you will need very long arms, because these animals have reached incredible sizes – about 3 meters long, from the nose to the tip of the tail and 2 meters to the withers. These ancient creatures moved easily with their strong and rather long legs, but, like modern wombats, they were a bit of a rattlesnake. They had a funny face with tiny eyes, small ears and a huge nose.

Of course, the giant wobat did not eat the meat of other animals and used its striking claws only to get plant food. In one day, absorb at least 100 pounds of greenery – leaves, grass and twigs. Surprisingly, the Diproton was the only marsupial that made seasonal migrations. Moving from place to place in search of fresh, nutritious plants, he traveled considerable distances. A mammal’s front teeth have continued to grow throughout its life, and from them paleontologists can pinpoint exactly how the animal’s diet and habitat have changed. In the same way, by studying the growth rings of a tree, researchers will discover what the climate of a particular period was like.

Diprotodon lived in modern-day Australia at the same time as many other representatives of the mega-fauna – during the Pleistocene – and probably encountered marsupial lions, giant snakes and bloodthirsty lizards. Such predators did not pose a particular threat to adult bombs, but they did hunt for babies. This is confirmed by the fossils found: in the bones of young diphtheriae there are visible marks of teeth, which most likely belong to marsupial lions. It is a pity that the little ones could not stay longer in the mother’s soft bag …

Team name

The word “diphtheria” is of ancient Greek origin and means “two teeth that protrude”. Giant wobats, like hares, had a pair of large front teeth on their upper and lower jaws.

Time of existence

About 1.6 million – 46 thousand years ago

Reasons for disappearance

One reason could be climate change. Scientists have repeatedly found fossils of large groups of diphtheria in areas where riverbeds probably dried up. In addition, the habitat of the giant bombs was destroyed due to human activity, because our ancestors burned entire forests. It makes a lot of sense to assume that bipeds first fell victim to hunting. A race of ancient people would have enough meat from an adult for many days. The hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that in some fossils traces of spears have been preserved.

On a note

The most famous marsupials on the planet are probably the kangaroos. Their brood bag, where the baby is born, is in the stomach. But in female wombats, it is located below the abdomen and opens backwards. The Diprotods had the same bag.

three meter hamster

Rodent Josephoartigasia monesi

In 1987, Argentine fossil hunter Sergio Viera discovered a huge skull of astonishing shape in the territory of Uruguay in the sediments of the San Jose geological formation. Viera realized that the find had some value and immediately handed over the fossil to the museum. However, the museum staff was not impressed. The skull was placed in a box and transferred to the archive. As soon as Viera discovered the fossil, he found himself again in complete oblivion. Now – for twenty years, until the box was opened by paleontologist Andres Rinderknecht.

Together with his colleague Ernesto Blanco, the scientist immersed himself in the study of the mysterious find and remained silent for some time. Finally, in 2008, the public learned about the results of the study. The skull did not belong to any known species. Its owner was the largest rodent in history. Riedernecht and Blanco named the animal Josephoartigasia monesi. It makes no sense to write these big words over and over again, so let’s name the rodent Josef for short.

The length of his head was over 50 cm. Imagine the head of a modern jungle hamster, which grows only up to 10 cm from the nose to the tip of the tail. The difference is unbelievable! The ancient rodent weighed about a ton, that is, 20 thousand times more than its small offspring and reached 3 meters in length, like a large bull. Scientists have identified all this by finding the skull.

Although Josef looked like a capybara, which bears the title of the largest rodent of our time, he was much closer to the Pacaran family. Today, these creatures, which weigh about 15 pounds[15 kg]live in the jungles of South America.

The giant Josef looked so cute that you would probably want to pet him. However, like all rodents, it had large and sharp incisors. Those who have kept a hamster at home know for sure that small animals can be hung on cage rods using only their teeth. If you imagine their ancient relative, you will immediately understand: Josef chisels were real weapons.

Researchers did not find a single fossil other than the skull. With so little material to study, one has to build one’s hypotheses carefully. After scanning the skull, the scientists created a three-dimensional computer model of the rodent’s head. Since his lower jaw was not preserved, the model was supplemented with an enlarged bone of another animal associated with Josef.

The scientists tried to estimate the size of the rodent’s entire body and determine how hard it clenched its jaws and what it ate. Apparently, Josef ate seaweed and tree fruit: his lateral and posterior teeth were quite small and not suitable for mowing. But in terms of the force of the bite with the cutters, the animal could undoubtedly be compared to the tiger. Josef probably used his front teeth when he fought with his relatives for a female or when he bravely defended himself against a toothed tiger, a fororakos bird and other predators that wanted to feast on some kind of rodent. Although Josef looked like an enlarged replica of a guinea pig – a harmless pet – he could certainly take care of himself.

Team name

Whoever thought of Joseph’s name obviously overdid it. phrase Josephoartigasia monesi difficult to pronounce and extremely difficult to remember. It happened when the names of the politician Jose Ervasio Artigas, who is called the father of the Uruguayan nation, and the paleontologist Alvaro Mones, a South American rodent researcher, were combined.

Time of existence

4–2 cm

Reasons for disappearance

Most likely, the giant rodent population was destroyed by predators. Or maybe some big animals migrated from North America and started competing with Josef for food. Or maybe climate change is to blame. It is not yet known what the main cause of the disappearance was.

On a note

Josef is not the only representative of giant prehistoric rodents. In 2000, an almost complete skeleton was discovered in Venezuela Phoberomys Pattersoni. This creature lived on Earth 8 million years ago.

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