December32011

Basilosaurus

Tropical Oceans // Eocene (~30 million years ago) // Cetacea // image source

When fossils of Basilosaurus were first discovered, it was thought to have been a marine reptile, hence its name meaning King’s Lizard. It was later correctly classified as an early whale.

November212011

Southern Hog-nosed Snake

North America // Vulnerable // Squamata // image source

The southern hog-nosed snake is one of several species of hog-nosed snakes. They are known not only for their upturned nose, but also for their ability to dramatically play dead when a predator is near.

November82011

Thylacosmilus

South America // Pliocene (~2 million years ago) // Sparassodonta // image source

While it appears to be a sabre-toothed cat like Smilodon, Thylacosmilus was actually a marsupial (or at least a very close relative of them), making it a prime example of convergent evolution.

November12011

Alligator Gar

North America // Conservation Status Unknown // Osteicthyes // photo source

The Alligator Gar can live to be over 50 years old, but the average lifespan in the wild is closer to 20 years. Unusually for a fish, it can survive out of water for up to two hours.

October252011

Lowland Paca

South America // Least Concern // Rodentia // image source

Pacas are closely related to the other large South American rodents (capybara, nutria, etc.), and similarly lives near rivers. It is the only mammal to have a specially adapted zygomatic arch that acts as a sonic resonating chamber.

October192011

Dakosaurus

Europe // Early Cretaceous (137 million years ago) // Sauropsida // image source

Dakosaurus looks like a type of dinosaur or plesiosaur, but it is actually one of many prehistoric crocodiles that developed fins. They reached lengths of up to 15 feet, and had an incredibly powerful bite.

October182011

Ross’s Turaco

Africa // Least Concern // Musophagidae // image source

For most birds, feather color is determined by light bouncing off each feather’s microscopic structure. Turacos are unique among birds in having feathers that are actually pigmented.

October172011

Shark Ray

Tropical Oceans // Vulnerable // Chondrichthyes // image source

Sharks and rays are closely related. The aptly named shark ray looks like a combination of both, but it is a large species of ray, growing to nearly 10 feet long. Like many other sharks and rays, it is dying out as a result of overfishing.

September162011

Hesperornis

North America // Late Cretaceous (80 million years ago) // Hesperornithiformes // image source

Despite its resemblance to the loon, hesperornis has no living descendants. It was about 5 feet long and had actual teeth (not just a serrated bill) to grasp fish easily.

September152011

Steller’s Sea Cow

North Pacific Ocean // Recently Extinct (c. 1768) // Sirenia // image source

Fun Fact: Steller’s Sea Cow was closely related to dugongs and manatees, but could grow up to 30 feet in length. It was hunted to extinction within 30 years of its discovery by European settlers.

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