Artiodactyla

My good pal @socknessmonster and I have been tossing around ideas for a li'l story we’re gonna write
And yes we have actual characters that I’ll probably share but i have a bad habit of worldbuilding monsters-first so here are the kelpies that patrol the beach and inland waterways of the setting. Though superficially similar to horses they share a closer lineage to the hippopotamus with an attitude to match. They usually mind their own business, but are fiercely territorial and will attack (and often eat) small annoying animals such as children that try to ride them. This has earned them a reputation as maneaters, and they were promptly hunted to near extinction. Small coastal populations still exist because local communities believe they keep away mermaids, which despite being rarer even than kelpies, they inexplicably seem to be perfectly adapted to lure wayward sailors close with their eeirily humanlike “faces” and reported habit of strategically stalking and even “playing” with their prey to draw them to the water’s edge.

I think I finished the giraffes. I’m not sure, I may tweak them a bit yet, but there won’t be any major changes (unless I get my hands on any good references that will show me where I made mistakes).

They’re sort of to scale: sort of, because in most cases it’s impossible to find good references, and, as I mentioned earlier, finding good info on sizes is also difficult. The best I could find for Bramatherium was: “somewhat smaller than Sivatherium.“, and for Shansitherium, it was “smaller, with longer, more gracile* skull than Sivatherium.“ And Smatoherium was “about the size of modern bull moose” (or elk, if you’re in the UK), but it had “1m long neck“, so I’m a bit more confident with Samotherium size.

Also to keep in mind: scrappy reference material: For Bohlinia, I literally had a piece of skull and the length of metetarsal, Palaotragus is also based only on a piece of skull, with modified Okapi skeleton for the rest of the body. The same with Giraffokeryx. Though in Palaeotragus case I also had the length of metatarsus to help with scaling. For Giraffokeryx the size is based on the skull length. At least I had a full skeletal reconstruction for Helladotherium, and with metatarsus length I’m quite confident, that one is accurate and to scale.

Shansitherium is based on several photos of its skeleton, but they were all distorted to some degree. I did my best to combine those, and get the proportions right, but there’s a possibility I made mistakes along the way.

Honestly, trying to find good references on extinct synapsids (whether mammalian or not), apart from the few “superstars“ is ridiculous. And even in cases of seemingly well known species, the lack of good references can be surprising.

That was supposed to be a fairly quick painting, but… it wasn’t. I also wasn’t sure how may extant giraffes to include here. Because some sources claim there’s only one, others that there are six, and others still that there are eight species. I got  confused about which of those views to follow, so decided to stick with the traditional one species.

I’ll be adding this to me shop at some point, once I’m sure there’s no more tweaks to make.

*huh, my browser doesn’t know that word.

Waharoa ruwhenua, a whale from the Late Oligocene of New Zealand (~27-25 mya). Part of an early branch of the baleen whale lineage, it’s known from partial remains of an adult and a couple of juveniles and would have reached a full size of about 6m long (19′8″).

It had an unusually long flattened snout, with its nostrils further forward than modern whales, and only had baleen in the back half of its mouth – an interesting comparison to the intermixed teeth-and-baleen of some other early mysticetes. It’s not clear whether it had any vestigial teeth in the front of its jaws, although a single possible tooth has been found associated with its close relative Tokarahia.

The rather delicate nature of Waharoa’s jawbones suggests it wasn’t capable of rapid lunges at swarms of its small prey, instead probably using slow-cruising surface skim-feeding similar to modern right whales.

Procranioceras skinneri, a dromomerycid from the Miocene (16.3-13.6 Ma) of the US. Dromomerycids were a successful group of ruminant mammals closely related to deer, bovids and their allies - all members of this group sported turret-like bone protrusions on their heads used for intraspecific combat and display, including this three-horned P. skinneri. Dromomerycids’ teeth and leg proportions suggest they lived in boggy forests and ate soft aquatic plants. 

Daeodon – Late Oligocene-Early Miocene (29-19 Ma)

As I said last time we went to Mammal Junction, a lot of mammals from the prehistoric Cenozoic are similar to mammals we have now, or look kind of like a generic mammal. Some of them, though, weren’t. Some were absolutely positively bizarre. Let’s talk about one.

This ugly motherfucker is named Daeodon, and lived in North America during the Paleogene-Neogene divide.  Daeodon—and other entelodonts, by extension—is essentially what it looks like. It’s a carnivorous ungulate, or, hoofed mammal. No surprises here, other than the fact it existed. Today, the only ungulates who eat meat are whales1. Ungulates make up most of the large land mammals today, and they’re all big grazers. Daeodon and its cousins, however, were apex predators.

If you’ve seen Walking with Beasts, Daeodon might look familiar to you. A similar animal appears in the third episode, “Land of Giants,” called an “entelodont.” That one lived in central Asia and probably belonged the genus Entelodon. If you’ve seen the documentary, you certainly remember maybe the most gruesome scene in the entire franchise, where a territorial fight between two of them leads to one’s face being fucked right up. Even as a violence-loving kid that one kind of made me shudder.

But even though Walking with tends to sensationalize its animals, that wasn’t really the case this time. They were probably a lot like that. Aggressive, terrifying, and ugly as hell. I wanted to give them a little more fur, though, since I personally don’t believe they were naked like a domestic pig. They’ve been nicknamed “Hell pigs” or “Terminator pigs” and I find it hard to disagree. 

They had big-ass heads and powerful jaws with pairs of huge canines and incisors, along with batteries of tough, blunt molars. This mixture of teeth is, weird as it probably sounds, sorta convergent with ours. Sharp front teeth and dull, rounded teeth in the back? These were the teeth of an omnivore. They fed themselves with a mix of scavenging and active hunting, and probably rounded out their diet with roots and tubers, an echo of their relationship with other hooved animals. They’re like a concept for a horror movie character. It’s like Kujo for pigs, I think. I don’t know much about Kujo other than the fact that Stephen King was inebriated when he wrote it and doesn’t even remember doing so.

It’s important to mention that they weren’t actually pigs, although we used to think some of them were. They’re the weird cousin pigs don’t talk about. Paleontologists like to disagree on how closely they were related to pigs and other artiodactyls (even-toed ungulates). I did a lot of digging to see where they might fall, and the general consensus looks like “somewhere around hippos and whales2.”

More about this genus specifically, Daeodon was the largest member of the entelodont family, being a bit taller than the average grown man. I am really glad I don’t live alongside these things. One specimen was originally named Dinohyus, which means “terrible pig.” It’s thought that Daeodon, more than other entelodonts, was mostly a scavenger. It followed other carnivores around and waited for them to kill something, then got in there and screamed at them until they ran away. These were huge animals with mouths full of sharp teeth; it probably wasn’t too hard for them to terrify their fellow meatboys.

Daeodon is also interesting because it’s kind of a tangle in the entelodont family tree. First of all: entelodonts are found pretty evenly in Eurasia and North America. So, there’s a cousin of Daeodon who lived in the same region of North America, a few million years earlier, called Archaeotherium. I actually almost talked about that one today instead. The obvious conclusion there is that Daeodon is descended from Archaeotherium, right? And that was the idea for a long time. But, looking closer, we found that it looks more like its cousins on the other side of the Pacific. It might be descended from an immigrant population of entelodonts who crossed over from Asia. Wack.

This leads to some questions, like, were the entelodonts in America just worse at being entelodonts? Did these guys come over the land bridge and just outcompete them? It’s really hard to say, since most animals aren’t fossilized and it’s totally possible they coexisted with native entelodonts and we just haven’t found them. Of course, they might also just be descended from American entelodonts and happened to develop convergent traits with their cousins across the pond. Listen, this science is a total disaster sometimes. We’re doing the best we can with piles of bones we find in the dirt.

So, yeah, that’s Daeodon, the murder “pig.” The Cenozoic is still full of surprises for us. A lot of the animals that didn’t survive to modern times are absolutely buckwild, and if this one doesn’t prove that, I’ll need to try harder. I mean, even if it does convince you, there’s still some weird shit out there that I’d love to cover. And that’s why I’m here!

P.S. If you haven’t seen Walking with Beasts, I highly recommend it. It’s the passion project of the Walking with team, and probably the most accurate installment of the three.

1Whales evolved from ungulates, and so are considered members of that group even though they have no gotdamn legs

2 If any of my readers know more about the relationship between entelodonts and other artiodactyls, please let me know. I’m not certain that I’m right on this and I’d love clarification

I’ve been playing with animation lately, and this is the first half-decent one I made. Although I have no idea why the background is sort of glitchy… I also mixed the sound for this (which was pretty fun in its own right).

Basilosaurus doing important, prehistoric whale stuff. At first I wanted the whale to stay in the middle of the screen, and have the illusion of it moving forward created with the background, but… this proved to be far more difficult than I imagined, so I moved the whale instead. Probably shouldn’t have chosen water for my first animation…

I already have an idea for something a bit more complicated, but no clue when I’ll have time to do this.

And as a side note, for some reason the software I’m using doesn’t render video files properly (though it should, and it does for other people), and I have to render every single frame as png and then make them into a movie. Bit annoying.

2

Marsh Deer (Blastocerus dichotomus)

…a large (the largest on their continent) species of deer (Cervidae) which is native to South America, where it occurs in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. True to their common names, marsh deer typically inhabit wet marshy areas like the patanal and gran chaco. They are noted swimmers and can move through the water quite rapidly. Marsh deer feed on a wide variety of aquatic plants (some studies have documented over 40 different species!) with members of Graminae and Pontederiaceae making up most of their diet. 

Classification

Animalia-Chordata-Mammalia-Artiodactyla-Cervidae-Odocoileinae-Blastocerus-B. dichotomus

Images: Jonathan Wilkins and Leonel Baldoni

Eucladoceros dicranios, a deer from the Pliocene and Pleistocene of Europe (~3.5-1 mya). Close in size to a modern moose, standing about 1.8m tall at the shoulder (5′10″), the males of this species had a set of particularly large antlers – measuring up to 1.7 meters across (5′6″) and bristling with at least twelve prongs each – giving it the nickname of “bush-antlered deer”.

The more famous “Irish elk” (Megaloceros giganteus) would later develop even bigger antlers, but Eucladoceros was the earliest known deer to evolve this sort of extremely elaborate headgear.