megacerops

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Megacerops (‘large-horned face’)

… is an extinct genus of the prehistoric odd-toed ungulate (hoofed mammal) family Brontotheriidae, an extinct group of rhinoceros-like browsers related to horses. It was endemic to North America during the Late Eocene epoch (38–33.9 mya), existing for approximately 4.1 million years.

All of the species had a pair of blunt horns on their snout (the size varying between species), with the horns of males being much larger than those of the females. This could indicate that they were social animals which butted heads for breeding privileges. Despite resembling a rhinoceros, it was larger than any living rhinoceros: the living animal easily approached the size of the African Forest Elephant, the third largest land animal today…

(read more: Wikipedia)

photo via: AMNH; illustration by Dmitry Bogdanov

The large horn face, Megacerops (1870)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Perissodactyla
Family : Brontotheriidae
Genus Megacerops
Species : M. coloradensis, M. curtus, M. hatcheri, M. kuwagatarhinus, M. osborni, M. platyceras

  • Late Eocene (38 - 33,9 Ma)
  • 5 m long and 3 300 kg (size)
  • North America (map)

Brontotherium is one of those prehistoric megafauna mammals that has been “discovered” over and over again by paleontologists, as a result of which it’s been known by no less than four different names (the others are Megacerops, Brontops and Titanops). Lately, paleontologists have largely settled on Megacerops (“giant horned face”), but Brontotherium (“thunder beast”) has proven more enduring with the general public.

Brontotherium (or whatever you choose to call it) was very similar to its close contemporary, Embolotherium, albeit slightly bigger and sporting a different head display, which was bigger in males than in females. Befitting its similarity to the dinosaurs that preceded it by tens of millions of years (most notably the hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs), Brontotherium had an unusually small brain for its size. Technically, it was a perissodactyl (odd-toed ungulate), which places it in the same general family as prehistoric horses and tapirs, and there’s some speculation that it may have figured on the lunch menu of the huge carnivorous mammal Andrewsarchus.

Brontotheres, Zdeněk Burian

Light lunged from both sides of the world. The earth tore itself open and bled flame; a fountain of molten rock hissed from the wound. Cascades of burning rocks thumped against the ground in sudden, erratic rhythms. Streaks of blue fire reached down like witches’ fingers, cracking against the water-filled air. There was no sky—instead a blanket of ash and cloud hung so low the brontotheres feared they would soon feel it on their backs. The baby cried; the mother lowed, and corralled it with the fear-hiding patience mothers do best. The sounds and blinding flashes were disorienting. The bull snorted rain out of his nose as sheets of water ran off his hide and swelled into puddles at his feet. The family moved in search of safety, but the truth was the ground and the sky had betrayed them, and they trusted nowhere while sandwiched between a rupturing earth and panicking heavens.