If you think modern Australian animals are scary, spare a thought for the country’s earliest human inhabitants. They had to contend with huge kangaroos and 5-metre carnivorous lizards
Before humanity became Earth’s undisputed superpower, giant beasts of all shapes and sizes dominated every continent, from the mammoths of Siberia to the ground sloths of South America.
In typical Antipodean fashion, the Pleistocene mammals of Australia were different. On most of the continents it is placental mammals that dominate, but Australia was (and still is) the heartland of the marsupials.
Australia’s Pleistocene marsupials were closely related to the pouched, fluffy creatures that still hop and scurry around the outback today. But some of them could grow to the size of small cars, or possessed teeth longer than knife blades.
These monster marsupials were not the only giants. Their numbers were swelled by 5m-long lizards, half-tonne birds and giant, dinosaur-like tortoises. The result was a truly nightmarish biological assemblage.
None of these animals survive today – although exactly why that’s the case is a mystery. Humans, with their advanced hunting techniques and use of fire to modify the landscape, may have played a central role in the megafauna’s disappearance, but this idea is still a matter of heated debate.
Even if we cannot be sure that the arrival of Australian Aboriginals on the continent had catastrophic effects on its native animals, it seems that the animals had a rather spiritual effect on the humans. The Aboriginal mythological “Dreamtime” includes a cast of monstrous creatures, many of which bear a close resemblance to some of the real-life monsters that once stalked Australia’s plains. Are the myths based in fact? Perhaps: after all, these creatures are far stranger than anything dreamed up by humans.
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Categories: Biology, Evolution, Highlight, The Muslim Times
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