The history of life exhibit in the Field Musuem in Chicago is divided into six major periods of earth’s 4.54 billion years. Last summer, as I walked through each of the six sections, skeletons of animals I’d never even dreamed of blew my mind. Each section then ended with an “extinction period” exhibit, in which climate changes or catastrophes wiped out most of the species that lived at the time. Each extinction period made me legit sad, as I realized how many amazing creatures there were that we’ve missed out on. Holly claims that it made me cry, but I deny that, for the record.
It has been estimated that only 1 in every 1,000 species that has ever existed on earth is still alive today. That means that 99.9% of species that have ever existed are now toast! Humans are certainly doing their part to destroy the last 0.1%, but time and nature already did most of the dirty work.
Dinosaurs account for only a small fraction of those extinct species. And yet, they get about 90% of the attention, with the ice age sabertooths and woolly mammoths taking the other 10%. For some reason, people seem to over-simplify natural history by thinking “amphibians – dinosaurs – mass extinction of dinosaurs – ice age – humans”! It’s certainly an easier way to think of things. But, it also doesn’t give credit to some pretty incredible animals who have come and left.
Don’t get me wrong- dinosaurs are awesome. But they don’t deserve to have three Magic School Bus episodes, three Jurassic Park movies, and an enshrined print on lunch boxes and pajamas when the millions of other species don’t get anything but a wikipedia article.
Stop oversimplifying your natural history or denying these animals’ existence, and you’ll find that earth had some pretty insane ecosystems back in the day.
I leave you with some of my favorites:
(Special shout-out: The Daeodon is straight out of a Star Wars torture chamber. It’s a like a warthog-horse-dog bigger than a car! Daeodon means “dreadful” in Greek, and has been nicknamed “the terminator pig”. The terminator pig. It may have lived 20 million years ago in North America, but I’m pretty sure it now lives in my nightmares.)
(Another special shout-out: Neanderthals were another species of human. Another species of human! Are you kidding me? Why is everyone ok with this? Imagine walking down the street and seeing another ‘person’, but not. This ‘person’ had different cognitive abilities, and different language and emotional capacity, but still was essentially human-ish. Trippy.)
Terror Bird (Phorusrhacidae)
This bird could eat horses and run faster than a cheetah. Just sayin’.