Nature is beautiful. Now that I’ve distracted her with this compliment, I can safely say that she’s also goddamn scary. But, no matter how many hairs on your back get raised by great white sharks, giant scolopendras, snakes and spiders, you should take into account that we’ve dodged quite a few venomous, toothy bullets by evolving relatively recently.
Had that played out differently, we might have encountered some real nightmare material, such as:
We love oxygen because it helps us not be dead. Guess who else loved it? Crawlies. Back in the Carboniferous period, oxygen levels reached an all-time peak, at around 35% of the atmospheric content. This was great news for arthropods an their simple respiratory system. They possessed a network of tiny tubes called the tracheal system. Oxygen passes through these tiny tubes and diffuses into their bodies. Higher oxygen levels meant that more oxygen could reach their cells and the metabolic needs of a larger body could be met. And boy did they get big.
Millipedes belonging to the Arthropleura genus were the largest invertebrates to have walked the Earth with their many, many legs. They populated the lush Carboniferous forests and could reach lengths in excess of 8 feet (2.4 meters). None of the fossils found contain fossilized mouth parts. The lack of sclerotized chompers led scientists to believe it fed on plant matter. Frankly, that gives us little warmth. Anyway, they became extinct because it took them forever to shake hands.
The pairing of certain words is guaranteed to strike the fear nerve: laser sharks, white walkers, honey badgers and of course, giant scorpions. The shallow Devonian ocean was full of them. Riding the same high-oxygen wave to oversize town as the car-sized millipede, some sea scorpions exceeded 8 feet in length. This estimate is based on the discovery of an 18 inch (46 centimeter) part of a claw belonging to Jaekelopterus rhenaniae.
Jaekelopterus probably wasn’t venomous but its smaller cousins, like Brontoscorpio might have been. Either way I’m crossing out swimming from my time-travelling pastimes. That way I won’t cross paths with these chitinous terrors, right? Wrong. Their respiratory systems allowed them to breathe both in water and on land and they might have been the first animals to set foot on land.
If you ever feel like swimming in the Amazon basin, bring some chainmail or better yet, a submarine. Anacondas, candirus, electric eels and piranhas are some of the many reasons you’d be somewhat safer on dry land. Well, piranhas are a little over-hyped but there’s the rest of the gang.
While piranhas are scary, direct-to-cable movies need a juicier plot which usually involves bigger,meaner versions. So did Mother Nature some ten million years ago. We call it Megapiranha paranensis and it would have called us dinner. Based on the teeth found in Argentina, scientists speculate it might have reached 1 meter (40 inches) in length and 20 to 30 pounds.
Scientists wanted to find the strength of a M. paranensis bite so they measured that of a modern-day black piranha and after some calculations they came up with a bite force of up to 1000 pounds per square inch (70 kilograms per square centimeter). Relative to its body size, the Megapiranha possessed one of the most powerful bites in history, possibly even stronger than Gary Busey’s.
A tank, a fish and the jaws of life walk into a molecular recombinator. Out comes Dunkleosteus. Its name is Latin for “thank the gods of old and new this fish is now extinct”. It swam in Devonian waters some 360 million years ago, terrorizing everything with its bony smile.
An adult Dunkleosteus reached 33 ft (10 meters) in length and weighed up to 7200 lbs (3.6 tons). It had powerful jaw muscles that allowed him to open its mouth in around 20 milliseconds, effectively vacuuming its prey. They also clamped down with 1660 pounds per square inch (116 kilos per square centimeter) force and would have used cannonballs for jawbreakers. We marvel at their fossilized skeletons while collectively thinking “good riddance!”
Modern whales are awesome creatures, be them gentle filter-feeding blue whales, mile-deep divers like the sperm whale or intelligent pack-feeders like the orcas. Fortunately, humans aren’t on their diet.
Had humans existed during the Miocene, they could have encountered this humdinger.
Named in honor of Moby Dick’s writer, this cetacean was about the same length as a sperm-whale. Unlike sperm whales, it fed on giant squid and everything else. It had a 3 meter skull packed with teeth the size of short swords, making it one of the largest predators the Earth has ever seen.
Should a mammalian bond keep you from fearing this whale, know that it shared the seas with C. megalodon, the only shark to have exceeded lvl 99. According to movies, its diet mainly consisted of Golden Gate Bridges.
Instead of providing you with honorable mentions, we’ll compile another list of thankfully extinct creatures.