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!
While hunting in the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1987, Russian hunter Rodion Sivolobov was given something quite unusual and rarely seen, the giant white skin of an unknown bear. It was after receiving this unknown skin that Sivolobov spent the next decade researching what the locals called, the Irkuiem.
First, some quick background information on the location where the skin was found. The Kamchatka Peninsula is a 780mi long, three sided island in the Russian far east with a surface area of around 100,000sq mi. The peninsula is home to around 322,000+ residents, contains 160 volcanoes, and generally has a subarctic climate. In 1945 after WWII, the Soviet army declared the entire area a war zone and closed it off completely to all citizens until 1989. The peninsula provides home to tundra wolves, arctic foxes, the Siberian lynx, wolverines, reindeer, moose, and snow sheep. It is also where the gigantic and elusive Irkuiem makes it home, right alongside the native Kamchatka Brown Bear.
The skin that Sivolobov received in 1987 (and later sent to a museum in St. Petersburg) was described as resembling that of an extremely oversized polar bear (even though polar bears are not native to the region), but the reindeer farmers who provided the pelt were very adamant the skin was not from a normal bear in the region but rather from a bear that was much larger and much more aggressive than the regularly seen Kamchatka Brown Bear. The Irkueim is believed to weigh around 1.5 tons (3,000lbs), is nearly 6ft tall at the shoulders while on all fours, and almost 12ft tall while on just its hind legs. It is covered in very short white fur and has a small head in proportion to the rest of its body. Its back legs are said to be smaller than its front legs and because of this, the Irkueim walks and runs in a very distinct way. Witnesses state that it looks somewhat similar to how a caterpillar moves.
Reindeer herders report that the Irkueim can decimate an entire heard of reindeer in a short amount of time and that it is in ones best interest to flee the area immediately if the mysterious bear shows up. It is extremely territorial, a strict carnivore, and shows no fear of humans. There have been reports though of humans taking a stand against the Irkueim and fighting back. Reports of mysteriously large white bears killed by locals in the region have shown up in 1976, 1980, 1982, and 1987.
So what is the Irkueim? Is it a new species of bear that has not yet been scientifically recognized, or could it perhaps be a known species of bear that has not been seen for a while? And by a while, we mean since the Pleistocene epoch nearly 11,000 years ago. You see, there are some researchers who believe that the Irkueim is actually a surviving species of Short-Face Bear, more specifically Arctodus Simus, the largest carnivorous land mammal that has ever lived on earth.
Arctodus Simus made its home in North America 800,000yrs ago and could be found from Alaska all the way down to Mississippi. This bear (also known as the Bulldog Bear because of its stubby face) could stand to heights of almost 12ft tall, had a 14ft vertical arm reach, and weighed around 1 ton. Researchers believe that it was a strict carnivore as no evidence of vegetation of any kind has been found in the analysis of its bones. This means that this apex predator would have had to consume nearly 40lbs of flesh a day to continue living (something that entire herds of reindeer could easily provide). Its front legs were alos longer than its hind legs and researchers believe it could reach speeds of up to 40mph.
So if this bear lived in North America during its existence, how is it showing up in Russia? Simple, it walked over via the Bering land bridge. During the late Pleistocene epoch, Alaska was connected to Siberia by the Bering land bridge. As the earths water became frozen during the last glacial period, global sea levels rose and fell. As the seas fell, once submerged land masses between continents became exposed and provided passage between once inaccessible lands. Once the glaciers began to melt, the sea levels started to rise again and the land bridge once again became submerged. Everything that had journeyed over the bridge was now calling a new continent home, such as Arctodus Simus.
Some researchers believe that over time, Arctodus Simus evolved to become a more suitable competitor of the native Kamchatka Brown Bear as well as adapting to the more harsh environment of the Kamchatka Peninsula. As the bears started to die out in North America, they started to thrive in Russia (and develop a new white coat). As time progressed, they began to encounter native humans and eventually became known as the Irkueim.
So, could the Irkueim be a surviving member of the largest bear species that has ever lived, a new species of bear that has never been documented before, or just an overly aggressive Kamchatka Brown Bear with a color mutation? Nobody will ever know for sure until a body is available for scientific research and testing, but until that day comes, the reindeer herders in the Kamchatka Peninsula will continue to be on guard while out in the elements so as not to meet a grisly fate brought on by the gigantic claws of the Irkueim.
The proper terms of venery are a herd of bison, a band of horses, a murder of crows, a cast of hawks, an ambush of Smilodon, a bevy of quail, a thunder of mammoths, a clute of American camels, a buttress of mastodons, a treachery of dire wolves, a sounder of peccaries, a rake of teratorns, a mustering of storks, a confederacy of ground sloths, a sprig of pronghorns, a blink of dwarf pronghorns, slithe of short-faced bears, a wake of buzzards, a charm of magpies, a sedge of herons, a parliament of owls, a wrangle of caracas, a pack of coyotes, a sawt of cave lions, a flitch of stilt-legged llamas, a quiver of kestrels, and a rafter of turkeys.
The largest bear that ever lived was the giant short-faced bear, a
relative of the Andean bear. Fossils of this bear have been found in
California’s La Brea Tar Pits, not far from the San Diego Zoo. | Turbo’s profile by Craig Chaddock
This summer we pulled some wild animals from the ground. Not just woolly mammoths, but saber toothed tigers, short faced bears, cave lions and dire wolves. They could’ve shot Game of Thrones here 30,000 years ago.
Cave lions were very real, either relatives
or subspecies of the lion, and are among the earliest subjects of pictorial art
known thanks to the discovery of cave paintings in Europe. They had their own distinct population in
North America, competing for prey in a time populated with both some of the
predators we’re familiar with today and primeval ones including sabertoothed
cats, short-faced bears, cheetahs, and dire wolves. Mammoths and mastodons roamed over the same
plains as the cave lions, too, and the European cave lions faced their own competition,
including hyenas and bears. Or maybe you
just need a bigger lion? Cave lions do a
good job in that department, too, although they’re pretty similar to dire lions
mechanically. Think they’re not serious
or aren’t as big a threat as other monsters?
Ask your players what they think the first time they notice there’s a
whole pride of lions as big as horses stalking them.
When a king falls
into darkness, the kingdom falls with him.
The Witch-King of Wahren was mocked in his youth for studying “woman’s
magic” as he listened to the words whispered into his ear by his oddly leonine
familiar. When he took the throne
despite that, the young king impressed everyone with his sagacity, settling
disputes fairly and using his magic to pacify the land. Of late, however, shadows have fallen and the
famed lions of the crown, once loyal and pacific companions of the royal family,
have grown into terrifying beasts, stalking anyone who dares to linger on royal
estates after dark. Only those carrying
the Witch-King’s emblem are safe. Unless
they’ve displeased him, of course.
With the glaciers
advancing after a titanic flash in the night and brilliant red sunsets, the
native predators have been driven south, looking to catch prey that has grown
more and more scarce. Already facing a
shortage of food, the hunter-gatherers in the lowlands are now dealing with
cave lions that have lost whatever fear they once had of humans. Among the shamans, rumors fly that the
spirits know of a great and powerful spirit that could cleanse the winds to
bring summer once more but even convincing that mighty being to consider the
matter will require amends for every lion that has been slain, whatever the
The warriors of the
Vyrii tribes wear lion masks in battle, hoping to take on the strength and
power of the greatest native hunters of their lands. While most of the masks are uncrowned,
warriors who engage in duels don the mane to mark them out that they might find
each other when the tribes go to war with each other. Often confused for a sign of social status,
any warrior might wear the mane if they learn the skills and protocols of
proper dueling, battling with the long, narrow blades of ritual (treat them as
Tome of Horrors Complete 676
The image above is from the Wikipedia article about the American lion.
what's the coolest prehistoric bear that you know of this is an emergency
Oh shit um off the top of my head the only one I can think of is the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) which could get to a respectable 12 feet tall and 2,000 pounds or so back in the Pliestocene…
Survived by its much less impressive living relative, the spectacled bear (maxing out around 400 pounds).
But aww, look at that little snub face.
Granted, 2,000 pounds sounds super impressive but it actually isn’t all that much bigger than the modern polar bear, which gets up to about 1,500 pounds, and average specimens of the giant short-faced bear were probably closer to that size anyhow.
But the cool thing about the giant short-faced bear was that it had relatively long limbs for a bear, meaning that it stood as tall or taller than an average man at the shoulder, and may have been alarmingly speedy. More hyena-like than bear-like in that sense.
Here’s art of a giant short-faced bear just enjoying life.
I dunno a whole lot about prehistoric bears or bears in general though, so if anyone else has a better suggestion now’s the time to give it.