There is a genus of dinosaur called Dracorex, or “dragon king.” And the only known species in this genus is
Dracorex hogwartsia. Yes, it is called the “dragon king of Hogwarts.” It lived in the Late Cretaceous, around 66 million years ago.
Life seems to have existed on Earth for over 4 billion years, but for much of that time it was primarily microscopic. And although multicellularity is known to have independently evolved multiple times, large complex forms didn’t really get started until around 600 million years ago, with the strange Ediacarans being some of the most famous early examples.
But that may not have been the first time such an evolutionary experiment happened.
A collection of fossils discovered near the city of Franceville in Gabon appear to represent an even earlier example of large multicellular life. Known as the “Francevillian biota” or “Gabonionta”, these fossils are over three times older then the Ediacarans, dating to a staggering 2.1 billion years ago during the Paleoproterozoic Era.
Over 400 specimens have been collected, representing a variety of different forms — including discs with ruffled edges, rods, rounded clusters of blobs, and elongated shapes that are sometimes attached to long “strings of beads” — with the largest reaching lengths of about 17cm (6.5”). Their age places them somewhere around the origin point of the earliest eukaryotes, and they may represent a completely unique kingdom of life unlike anything alive today.
These organisms’ appearance in the fossil record came shortly after the Great Oxygenation Event, suggesting the evolutionary development of large complex bodies is directly linked to the amount of available oxygen for aerobic respiration. Later, atmospheric oxygen dropped again, and the Francevillian biota disappeared into extinction, leaving us with only these mysterious fossils hinting at a surprisingly diverse and alien-looking period in life’s deep past.
the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holocene Epoch (roughly 11,700 years before present). It includes the study of fossils to determine organisms’ evolution and interactions with each other and their environments (their paleoecology). Paleontological observations have been documented as far back as the 5th century BC.
Life on earth, as magnificent and versatile as it is, is seemingly tame compared to the weird and wonderful creatures that once existed. All categories of life have reached unimaginable sizes, here are just a selection of prehistoric record breakers!
MEGALODON The biggest shark known to have existed, ruling over the oceans as recently as up to a million years ago. A length of almost 20 metres and weighing in at an estimated 48 tonnes, Megalodon could deliver a crucifying bite of up to 110,000N. It is no surprise that the Megalodon was dubbed the “whale killing shark”.
MEGATHERIUM Our early ancestors would have been quite familiar with Megatherium as they existed up to 8000 years ago, they were in fact the largest sloths to have existed. Sloths have a reputation as being lazy, slow and docile, but Megatherium was a 6 metre long, 4 tonne monster with a killer instinct and knife-like claws. Megatherium’s discovery came before that of the dinosaurs. Skeletons of these prehistoric beasts were a delight to the Victorian public and paved the way for the science of palaeontology.
ARCHELON Literally meaning “large turtle”, Archelon certainly was just that. Existing during the cretaceous, the time of the dinosaurs, Archelon could reach 4.5 metres long and may have lived to over 100 years old. Archelon could not compete with other cretaceous beings in speed and agility, but its blade-like beak was able to slice through flesh and crush though the toughest ammonite shells. Unfortunately Archelon appears to have been a popular snack for other marine dwellers, skeletons are frequently missing flippers or heads and covered in slashes.
TITANOBOA When the dinosaurs reign ended, a new era saw the rise of new super-predators, one was Titanoboa, the largest snake ever with a body up to 13 metres long, standing a metre off the ground and weighing up to 2500 pounds. Titanoboa was 30% longer than even todays largest species. Scientists believe this humongous snake hunted like its modern relatives, the boa constrictors, by winding around prey and suffocating them.
IRISH ELK Owner of the largest antlers of any animal, up to 3 metres wide, the Irish Elk gets its name from its frequent discoveries in Irish peat bogs. Existing up to 10,000 years ago, these would have been a common sight in grasslands for our ancestors. Many fossils indicate the animals died of starvation which is why the antlers are thought to have been part of elaborate mating contests between males, often resulting in one being fatally injured and unable to feed itself.
DEINOTHERIUM A distant relative of the elephants and mammoths, Deinotherium was more sinister, its name translates to “terrible beast”, they would have most likely caused trouble for our ancient ancestors around 1.5 million years ago. Deinotherium is actually considered to be the second largest land mammal of all time, behind Paraceratherium and is iconic in appearance due to its sharp, downward facing tusks.
ARCTODUS Known as the short faced bear, they were the biggest bears on record and one of the largest mammal carnivores to have existed. Whilst their skull was short, they were packed with piercing teeth that could deliver a bone crushing bite. Existing up to 11,000 years ago, out ancestors would have stayed well clear of this 900 kilogram predator, with slender limbs and knife-like claws, Arctodus was deadly.
SARCOSUCHUS One of the most infamous fossil discoveries in history, Sarcosuchus was the largest crocodile to walk the Earth up to 112 million years ago, this was a crocodile capable of killing dinosaurs. Sarcosuchus was twice as long as a saltwater crocodile, that’s 11-12 metres long and could reach over 8 tonnes. Its jaw was packed full of 66 teeth either side of its jaw and would have clamped down on prey that wandered too near.
ARGENTINOSAURUS One of the largest lifeforms that has ever stood on the Earth, Argentinosaurus could grow up to 30 metres long with its hind limbs standing 4.5 metres off the ground. They existed between 97-94 million years ago and at adulthood would have been virtually indestructible to predators. Its weight is estimated at a staggering 80-100 tonnes. There hasn’t been another land mammal on the same scale as Argentinosaurus since and it’s unlikely there ever will be.
SPINOSAURUS The largest discovered therapod ever, a group that includes Allosaurus and Tryrannosaurus. Spinosaurus remained an enigma to scientists for decades, the only discovered specimen was sadly destroyed during World War 2 and was not rediscovered until the 21st century. Spinosaurus is thought to have reached up to 16 metres long and weighed in around 12 tonnes, that is almost double the weight of a T-rex!
The two-foot-long skeleton was the first fossilized newborn of its species. So it was certainly the first to be found with leftover squid in its guts. He and paleontologist Nigel Larkin published their findings last week in the journal Historical Biology.Read More