These Animals Were Just As Awesome and Fascinating As Dinosaurs
Fossil mammals have been in the shadows for too long.
by Brian Switek
If you’re in New York City
and need a break from the swarms crowding the sidewalks, I know where
you can go. The Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals in the American Museum
of Natural History is almost always quiet.
You may bump into the
occasional student trying to fill out a science class scavenger hunt or a
confused family wondering where the dinosaurs are, but the hall is
usually as hushed as a tomb. That’s fitting for a room boasting
skeletons of fossil beasts shoved into almost every corner, but it’s
also a shame.
I’ve seen the same at other major museums: the Field Museum
in Chicago; the Carnegie in Pittsburgh; the Peabody in New Haven,
Connecticut; the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History; the Royal
Ontario Museum in Toronto; and more. Hordes of children and adult
visitors pack the dinosaur halls, but the fossil mammals stand in the
shadows—dominated by the reptiles in death just as they were in life.
After a mass extinction
released mammals from the tyranny of the dinosaurian reign, they became
even more strange and spectacular. But even these species have been
obscured by the popularity of the scaly and fuzzy
reptiles. Some visitors, assuming that any skeleton in a museum must be
from the Mesozoic, even go so far as to insult giant sloths, multitoed
horses, and enormous elephants by calling them dinosaurs…
… is an extinct genus of large (4.5 - 6 m (15 - 20 ft) long) predatory marine bony fish that lived during the Late Cretaceous. When alive, the fish would have resembled a gargantuan, fanged tarpon (to which it was, however, not related). Skeletal remains of Xiphactinus have come from Kansas (where the first Xiphactinus fossil was discovered during the 1850s), Alabama and Georgia in the United States as well as Europe, Australia, Canada and Venezuela…
…was a very large (10m/32ft) stomatosuchid crocodilian from the late Cretaceous of Egypt. Unlike many other crocodyliforms it is largely unknown what exactly S. inermis ate. Its flattened skull had a long, lid-like snout which was filled with small conical teeth. Some theorize that the mandible might of been toothless and supported a pelican-like throat pouch.
Sadly the only known specimen (a large skull, collected by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer) was destroyed when the Munich Museum was bombed in 1944.