WEIRD FOSSILS

10 Of The Weirdest Extinct Animals That Roamed The Earth


Published on May 4, 2024


Credit: David Clode

Earth is a weird place. Many living creatures already seem out-of-this-world -or at least ill-conceived - but what about those that are extinct? Millions of species have roamed the planet, and although many are similar to what we are used to, many more are exceedingly strange.

Join us as we go deep into our evolutionary past and uncover some of the weirdest animals that ever lived!

1

Glyptodon

Credit: André Ganzarolli Martins, CC BY-SA 4.0

The peaceful glyptodon was an enormous mammal (roughly the size of a small car) that was related to modern-day armadillos and sported a similar armored exterior. This giant herbivore lived during the Pliocene, around 3.2 million years ago. Although glyptodon and humans coexisted for a relatively short period of time, human hunters are said to have used the hardened shells as shelter.

2

Megalodon

Credit: Werner Kraus, CC BY-SA 4.0

Maybe weird is not the right word to describe this spine-chilling monster, but it would have certainly been a sight to behold. Megalodon, which means "big tooth" in ancient Greek, was the largest shark to ever swim in Earth’s oceans. Luckily, it went extinct around 3.6 million years ago, because it could reach 67 feet in length and its dagger-like teeth were 7 inches long!

3

Tully Monster

Credit: PaleoEquii, CC BY-SA 4.0

If this nightmarish creature was conceived as some sort of alien monster in a low-budget sci-fi movie, we would still say it was ludicrous. But the aptly named Tully Monster was definitely real, and it was weirder than you think. Based on the fossil record, tullimonstrum was an aquatic creature with a (mostly) tubular shape, eyestalks, and a long proboscis with sharp teeth at its end. Even paleontologists find it exceedingly weird, so much so that its exact classification has been the subject of a long-held controversy among scientists.

4

Arthropleura

Credit: Seth Wickham

Afraid of millipedes? Maybe skip this one, then. Arthropleura was a genus of massive millipedes that could reach lengths of almost 8 feet. These terrifying creatures of the lower Carboniferous were, however, very similar to modern arthropods, likely scurrying around forests and consuming decomposing organic matter. The reason so many bugs grew to immense sizes during this time was likely related to higher levels of oxygen present in Earth’s atmosphere, and the lack of large terrestrial predators.

5

Terror Bird

Credit: Frank Lehmann, CC BY-SA 4.0

As their name suggests, terror birds were apex predators. In fact, the largest predators in South America during the Cenozoic. These giant flightless birds could grow to be 10 feet tall, only ate meat, and could easily crack skulls or shells with the terrible strength of their pointed beaks. Fortunately, terror birds are thought to have become extinct at least a million years before humans arrived on the continent, though some smaller subspecies may have survived until more recently.

6

Titanoboa

Credit: Jan Kopřiva

As if Colombian rainforests weren’t dangerous enough, imagine an almost 50-foot-long snake stalking its prey amongst the dense foliage. Titanoboa were a larger (and way heavier) relative of modern anacondas, and the largest snakes to ever roam Earth. Although at first they were thought to be an apex predator, the shape of their skulls suggests that titanoboa likely preferred to prey on fish.

7

Smooth Handfish

Credit: CSIRO, CC BY 3.0

A fish so rare that only one specimen of the species was captured for scientific study in 1802, on the shallow coastal waters of Tasmania, the smooth handfish is on the cuter side of this list - sort of - with four hand-like appendages that it used to walk on the seafloor. Australian researchers hilariously describe its whimsical appearance as "dipping a toad in some brightly colored paint, telling it a sad story, and forcing it to wear gloves two sizes too big." Since the smooth handfish was never seen again in two centuries, it is deemed long extinct, but several other species of handfish survive in southern Australia.

8

Hallucigenia fortis

Credit: Han Zeng, CC0

If the name is not a clue as to the weirdness of this extinct species, behold its description: a mostly featureless worm-like creature with ten pairs of legs, a set of rigid spines on its back, and a blobby head. However, since its real appearance is difficult to reconstruct, some scientists have even weirder interpretations of hallucigenia , claiming that the legs were actually tentacle-like appendages that may have had independent mouths.

9

Meganeura

Credit: Dustin Humes

Did you know that dragonflies grow larger in enriched oxygen atmospheres? Well, during the oxygen-rich Carboniferous (300 million years ago), a giant relative of modern dragonflies soared the skies. Meganeura could have a staggering wingspan of over 2 feet, and they were adapted to prey on other insects in open habitats. Scientists think that, as oxygen levels plummeted in the following geological periods, these huge insects went extinct, as their larger body size was no longer an advantage.

10

Gigantopithecus

Credit: Mike Arney

As recently as 300,000 years ago, true giants roamed southern Asia’s thick bamboo forests. Nearly 10 feet tall and potentially weighing as much as 600 pounds, this gorilla-like ape is thought to have been mainly herbivorous, surviving on barks and twigs. Although some people have speculated that surviving members of the Gigantopithecus genus could be behind the alleged sightings of Bigfoot, most scientists dismiss these theories, as the species has been extinct for thousands of years.


SERENDIPITOUS SCIENCE

10 Amazing Scientific Discoveries Made by Accident


Published on May 4, 2024


Credit: Hal Gatewood

Most of the time, science is a painstakingly slow process where hypotheses are tested again and again through experiments, often without conclusive results. Yet, some of the most groundbreaking discoveries have come about not through careful planning, but by sheer serendipity.

Here are 10 instances where accidental findings changed the course of science and history.

1

Penicillin

Credit: CDC

In 1928, Alexander Fleming returned to his laboratory after a long holiday, only to find a strange mold contaminating his Petri dishes of Staphylococcus bacteria. Surprised, he noticed that the mold was somehow preventing the bacteria from growing around it, as if it produced some kind of chemical that killed the bacteria. This chance encounter led to the discovery of penicillin, the world's first antibiotic, revolutionizing medicine and saving millions of lives.

2

Microwave Oven

Credit: Vlad Zaytsev

During World War II, engineer Percy Spencer noticed a chocolate bar melting in his pocket while working with radar equipment. Known for being a curious individual, he tried the same thing with other foods, discovering that the electromagnetic waves were quickly cooking anything that was put too close to the source. Soon, his colleagues were sampling the first microwave-cooked meals, and this eventually led to the development of the microwave oven .

3

X-rays

Credit: Jonathan Borba

In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen was experimenting with cathode rays when he noticed that a platinocyanide screen (a material that happens to glow fluorescent in the presence of gamma and x-rays) almost nine feet away from the source started glowing. His curiosity was sparked, and after a few more experiments, he concluded that this type of radiation could pass through most substances, including soft body tissues. The unexpected phenomenon, later dubbed X-rays by Roentgen himself, eventually revolutionized medical imaging and diagnostics.

4

Teflon

Credit: Rob Wicks

In 1938, chemist Roy Plunkett accidentally discovered Teflon while working on refrigerants, when a batch of coolant gas polymerized overnight into a mysterious slippery substance. After a few tests, he discovered that the new material was non-reactive to most chemicals, leading to the creation of the most versatile non-stick material.

5

Vulcanized Rubber

Credit: Goh Rhy Yan

In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber and sulfur onto a hot stove. The resulting hardened material, known as vulcanized rubber, revolutionized industries from transportation to footwear. Although the world-shaking discovery was accidental, Goodyear had spent many years trying to create a stable form of rubber, a finding that changed his life and the lives of millions forever.

6

Radioactivity

Credit: Dan Meyers

While the term was coined by Marie Curie and her husband Pierre, it was Henri Becquerel who actually discovered radioactivity. In 1896, he was researching the properties of the recently discovered X-rays, when he found out that a sample of uranium could emit energy without an external source. His momentous discovery eventually led to our modern understanding of atomic physics and the development of nuclear energy.

7

Velcro

Credit: Danielle-Claude Bélanger

While taking his dog out for walks in the woods in 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed how burrs would easily stick to the fur of the animal and his clothes. Intrigued, he examined them under a microscope, giving him the idea of creating a simple fastener with a similar principle. He patented his idea in 1955, and gave it a name: Velcro , a portmanteau of the French words for velvet and hook .

8

Post-it Notes

Credit: Daria Nepriakhina

In 1968, a 3M scientist called Spencer Silver was attempting to develop a strong adhesive but "failed," instead creating a weak one. He still tried to put it to some use, but no one could think of any practical application for it. Years later, Art Fry - one of his colleagues at 3M - found it was very useful to keep bookmarks in place , and this eventually led to the manufacturing of the ubiquitous Post-it Notes.

9

Saccharin

Credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya

In 1879, Russian chemist Constantin Fahlberg was working with a coal tar derivative when he noticed it left a sweet taste in his hand . Realizing this particular compound was the culprit, he named it saccharin and began commercializing it as a food additive. The product was almost banned right away by concerned chemists, but after a few hiccups, the first artificial sweetener was born.

10

The Big Bang Theory

Credit: Guillermo Ferla

In 1965, radio engineers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson stumbled upon cosmic microwave background radiation while testing a sensitive antenna. At first, they thought the strange heat being picked up was the fault of a family of pigeons that settled inside their antenna , but after removing them, the anomaly persisted. This accidental discovery provided c ompelling evidence for the Big Bang theory -predicted almost 20 years before by theoretical physicists- and shaped our modern understanding of the universe's origins.

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