Archive for the ‘extinct species’ category

“Strange Evidence” Predator Resurrection

February 10, 2019

The Strange Evidence series on the Science (SCI) channel is one of the better shows currently televised on unexplained phenomena and scientific speculation. If somewhat uneven and episodic, the shows have decent production values and offer commentary and opinions by scientists as well as observers of the topics under consideration.  It’s a mixture of the far out and things that just might be possible; I like it!

With each installment comprised of several segments, the S1/Ep10 offering included camera trap footage taken in Tasmania in 2016 of an animal unfamiliar to observers that may have been a Tasmanian tiger, a species thought to have been hunted to extinction in the 1930’s with the last specimen in captivity (above) having died in 1936. Actually a marsupial, the Tas tiger was wolf-like with stripes and a long, inflexible tail. Due to the low resolution of the film taken, experts consulted could not conclusively identify the animal present, and thought it might have been a quoll, which is a smaller carnivorous mammal common to Tasmania.

So is the Tasmanian tiger still out there?  I remain skeptical, but stranger things have happened…

Reptilian Mammal Fossil Found!

June 3, 2018

Evolution is perhaps coolest when we can discover examples of its transitional phases, and this little guy whose cranium was discovered nearly intact in Utah fits that bill.  Small but mighty, he weighed in at under three pounds and stood only about three inches tall.  He could probably give you a nasty bite on your ankle…

Resembling fossils previously found only in Eurasia and North Africa, the 130-million year old remains indicate that the supercontinent Pangea held together for about 15 million years, considerably longer than previously suspected, allowing for the spread of early mammals such as these and for their exploration of ecological niches.  Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch here was fur covered and suckled their young but laid eggs, similar to the modern-day platypus.  

Described as snout-bearing and catlike with buck teeth, the critter was discovered by accident amidst a cluster of larger dinosaur bones as they were being extracted, under the foot of one of them…ouch!  Just don’t dig up your basement looking for another one…

The Beasts of “Thrones”

July 26, 2015



There are many reasons to watch HBO’s Game of  Thrones, including the superb acting, the complex plotting and character development, and the rich medieval settings inspired by European history.  Animal life as depicted in the series includes both present day and extinct species as well as fantasy creatures, some of which serve the human characters.  We are shown both dire wolves and dragons, for example, in continuing episodes.   An obedient dire wolf like Ghost can keep you safe from just about any hazard you might encounter in the wilderness, and an army with dragons in service is capable of laying waste to a castle.

Beyond such creature features we are introduced to the concept of a warg or skin-shifter, who is a person capable of slipping mentally into the mind of an animal and dominating that beast, making it do their bidding and seeing through its eyes.  Think mental dominance, kind of like Andy McGee’s character in Firestarter or the Jedi knights of Star Wars, but with an added remote viewing component.  It’s handy, for example, to slip into the mind of a bird for aerial surveys of the enemy’s location, and causing wolves to attack foes is also a useful skill.  Being a warg might be a nice power to have if you can’t actually shapeshift.

All in all, getting into Game of Thrones is a journey worthy of your time if you have any taste for medieval fantasy epics, and you can access past seasons on the “on demand” feature of cable services or pay per episode through Amazon.  I’d recommend starting the series at the beginning and working your way sequentially through to avoid feeling hopelessly confused should you jump in mid-stream.  Author George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire upon which the series is based is also quite a read…

Of DNA Degradation and Dinosaurs…

October 11, 2012

– – Just when the Jurassic Park films had us hoping for such a real-life scenario, it turns out to be virtually impossible owing to the calculated half-life of DNA, which figures out to be only around 521 years. 

A team of paleogeneticists tested 158 leg bones belonging to three species of extinct giant moa birds which ranged from 600 to 8,000 years old, running a series of comparisons between the age of the various bones and DNA degradation within each specimen.  The DNA half-life worked out to about 521 years in specimens kept at swamp temperatures.  Even a more ideal preservation temperature of minus 5 degrees Celsius would only result in readable DNA from specimens up to 1.5 million years old, far less than would be required to reconstitute a T-Rex or raptor…

The Giant Moa…

July 31, 2010

– – The second half of a 2010 Destination Truth episode focused on the Giant Moa, an extinct flightless bird native to New Zealand that was  hunted to extinction in the 1500’s.  There were twelve species of moa, the largest of which stood up to twelve feet tall!   Now this big bird wasn’t “Big Bird” but could easily kill the Sesame Street specimen; the giant moa had colorful feathers and three-toed taloned feet with which it could conceivably disembowel hunters.  Eyewitness sightings of giant moa have occurred in remote locations of New Zealand, however, despite their presumed extinction, giving grounds for a Destination Truth investigation.

Josh Gates and his team rummaged around after dark in those remote locations, setting up camera traps and hunting about for evidence of these giant avians.  The  cameras yielded nothing save blurry images, and investigation found bones, a feather, and footprints.  The bones turned out to be mammalian, the feather was from a rare bird but not a moa, and the footprint castings could not be identified.

So once again, an extinct species must be presumed to be extinct, since as it was commented it’s hard to keep a twelve foot bird off the radar!   How sad, however, that the human race with their boom sticks eradicated this species…

What’s In YOUR Backyard?

July 8, 2010

– – Just  when you think that everything’s been discovered, someone digs up something that’s new…and we’re not talking about mob hit victims!

A guy excavating for a swimming pool in his Brighton, Tenn. backyard unearthed the fossilized jawbone of a prehistoric mammal, possibly a trilophodon, part of the mastodon family who were in turn the extinct relatives of today’s elephants.  The remains later uncovered were estimated to belong to an adult who stood up to eight feet tall and weighed up to two tons.  This would be the first time that such a species has been found in the mid-American south.

…and why can’t I dig up anything good in my backyard?!

The Caveman in You…

May 11, 2010

– – Neanderthals had for many years been regarded as primitive and ape-like, but like modern humans, they had developed a culture, used tools, and probably spoke a rudimentary language.  Although their culture was less rich than that of modern man and they were less able to adapt, a recent study of DNA evidence has suggested that there were also less than 10,000 Neanderthals in existence at any one time, making them more vulnerable to diseases or sudden climatic changes.

An international team of scientists recently decoded the complete Neanderthal genome, and found that roughly 1 to 4 percent of the genomes of non-African people derive from these extinct relatives.  This would suggest that modern man and Neanderthals interbred, so there’s a little caveman in all of us!