Welcome to my Metazoic site! This site discusses the existence of the creatures to come along after humans will be extinct. I first became interested in a world after man when I acquired my first copy of Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future in 1992. However, I unwittingly created creatures that did not exist from the time I was about 8 years old. But it was after I obtained a copy of that book (now a collector's item) that I decided to take these same creatures I created as a child and make them more realistic in an evolutionary sense. Though it may be hard for a lot of us to grasp, humans will soon become extinct. One of the biggest factors of how this will happen is the current overpopulation rate. Which is why I don't contribute to the population. I created this world with little more than mammals fulfilling all ecological niches with the help of some friends. I even gave the era of the age after man a name, I called it the Metazoic, derived from the words for "After-era" (Meta, meaning after, and zoic meaning era). We are now in the Cenozoic era. To view all the animals I have created since I began this project, you can go to the "Meet the Mammals" section of this site. To discuss your own ideas about what you think will happen in the future world, and share your ideas with others, please feel free to leave a comment.
One more thing, some of you may find this site quite offensive, and you have a right to your own opinion. But please respect my right to have an opinion too. I'm not saying there is no GOD, I believe it was HIM who got the ball rolling. But I believe after that, evolution took over. There is so much more evidence of evolution than there is of creation. Even that going on right under our noses. Other than that, enjoy yourself and visit our many links.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cool Video!

Alan Root had a remarkable encounter with what was perhaps the World's rarest carnivore. His films are always quite good, but here, he struck diamonds!! He filmed a highly elusive aquatic genet, or Osbornictis piscivora. It is the rarest carnivore on Earth. In the 80s, it was believed there were no more than 18 individuals in the wild, and no captive animals remain. Nobody knows how many are in the wild now, which is why it is so amazing he was able to capture this footage of a genet on the hunt.

Aquatic genets are rather unique. They hate the water, but that is where they get all their prey from. If they can survive longer, it wouldn't be too big of a leap for these animals to develop fully-aquatic lifestyles. Very few feliformes actually like the water. In fact the only feliformes that are to any degree aquatic are in the mongoose and civet family (Viverridae). All others of their kind are land-based. This is the animal that gave me the idea of a fully-aquatic viverrid of the late Metazoic. I called the animal Thalassogenetta (formerly Hydrogenetta), of the Atlantic. It is a 50-foot long, very powerful animal with a long, oar-shaped tail, and limbs that more resembles flippers. The mouth is huge and the teeth are made for crushing and are very sharp, powered by jaws more powerful than those of a crocodile. Their prey consists of fish, cephalopods, crabs, smaller aquatic prosimians like Oreolemur and Rhynchocebus, and especially sea turtles. But for now, the aquatic genet feeds on fish and frogs.

If you'd like to see Thalassogenetta, you can visit their page on my site HERE. Thalassogenetta also will have a similar cousin on the Pacific side of their range, Oceictis. This animal will be a lot more advanced than Thalassogenetta, all limbs will be reduced to flippers, and the tail will be flattened sideways, giving them a side-to-side swimming motion, much like eels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Theory of Predatory Rats

Dixon's book After Man actually portends that rats will become predatory giants. I agree with it. Rats are very successful rodents. There is no doubt in my mind that a rat could become a predatory animal. I don't agree with everything about the creatures Dixon created. He still drew rats with long, naked tails, like they have today. I highly doubt they will still have the naked tails. That's how all mammals started out, and today, the only mammals that have that feature are the smallest of their kind. So I don't think rats will always have the naked tails. I place these rats in my checklist under the family Caromuridae. I myself have not yet worked on this family, but there is a place for it on my Metazoic site once I decide to work on it.
Anyway, Dixon's idea is that these rats will evolve modified incisors to resemble the canines of modern predators. It could very well happen. One thing that has people today stumped is that rodents have incisors that continue to grow, making the development of these modified incisors impossible. I figured a solution to that problem as well. I figure that these rats will have incisors that continue to develop inside, much like what sharks have or lizards, and when one tooth falls out or is kicked out, a new one will grow back in it's place, fully-formed, and ready to kill again. No other mammal has this feature, and rats would be the most likely to develop this, giving them a great advantage over other predatory mammals, who are so designed that when they lose teeth, they stay gone forever. Rats have a powerful bite as well, several times more powerful than the bite of a lion. Imagine the bite force of a 6-foot long rat like Amphimorphodus (pictured to the left of this article). It's mouth can open wide and grab an unfortunate prey animal like a rabbuck or one of the therapeds and bring it down nicely. Again, I don't agree that predatory rats will have the rat-like tails that Dixon pictured here. In my book, Amphimorphodus has a long, hairy tail like a tiger or a leopard. Rats won't always have naked tails, that's the beauty of evolution.
The beauty of rodents is that they can regrow their incisors at a fast rate, so any that fall out will never be missed. It would not really take much to evolve this feature, and this would make rats the perfect predators. In my book, different species evolve different shaped incisors. This species, Amphimorphodus, has incisors specially designed to puncture the jugular and suffocate their prey, just like a modern lion. Another species like Caromus, has circular-shaped incisors to crush bone, not exactly designed for piercing, but for plain crushing. It's helpful in breaking the spine of their prey, paralyzing it to be fresh when eaten. Well, those are just the 2 main types. But that is how I picture these carnivorous rats to be designed in the future.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Family of the Week: The Gaboon Antelopes

These are close relatives of the therapeds. They very closely resemble antelope of today only with the long, thick tails of the therapeds. Like modern antelope, they have long, slender legs for running. Fully-hooved feet for streamlining. The body is long and flexible. The neck is long and slender. The ears are large and diamond-shaped and can swivel independantly in any direction. The eyes are large with long eyelashes as protection against the sun, sand and flying dirt. The eyes themselves are placed on each side of the head, and gives the animal a wide field of vision to spot any predators coming from any direction. The eyesight is very good, and so is the hearing. The sense of smell is better than it is in the therapeds, but is not useful in detecting predators, as all predatory mammals of the Metazoic are odorless. The sense of smell in these antelope are more useful for sniffing out food items.

Most of these antelope are small animals that live most of their lives in the brush, though they are quite capable of bounding out of their usual hiding spots if a predator is coming. Most live in small family groups, but one species, Caleriscopula, lives in vast herds on the plains. They are actually one of the most social animals within their range, much like herds of caribou or wildebeest. They often do not stay in one large field, but tend to migrate from one field to another on the island, and then back again. Herds can number in the hundreds of thousands. Though the species it's self is no bigger than a thompson's gazelle, not counting the tail which is about as long as the body.

Some gaboons live in marshy areas, such as Herbacomesus and Harundoaleres. These species do not really seek safety in numbers, but rely on their ability to escape into the water. In the Amazon, which is within their range, these antelope have even learned to dive and walk along the river floor. They can actually stay submerged for several minutes. They live in small family groups, and when searching for food or in the face of a predator, it becomes every animal for it's self. Though mothers will usually dive and tuck their fawn under their bellies as they move off. The fawn will usually faithfully remain underneath the mother until she feels the danger has passed. The family will usually reunite with calls as well as visual recognition. The favorite food of especially the Herbacomesus species is the large water reeds they live among. They are actually one of few mammals that can digest these tough, bamboo-like stalks. They use their powerful jaws to break off a chunk of the stem and chew it down and swallow.

The largest species is Baradromas, with an overall length of about 10 feet, and weighing about 400 pounds. These are also very tough animals. They travel in small family groups as opposed to large herds, and when confronted by a predator or another of their species, they use their tail and sharp front hooves for protection. They can swat with their tail quite effectively. When that does not work, they rear-up, and swaft their hooves at the attacker, usually going for the face of the attacker. On each other, the hooves can leave some pretty bad scars. On a predator, it can even gouge their eyes out if necessary. All but the largest of all predators in their range hesitate before attacking this animal. The male is the leader of the family group, females with young follow directly behind him. Low-ranking animals take the very tail end of their group. A herd consists usually of a dominant male with about 2 or 3 females, young, and lower-ranking animals, usually bachelor young that have not yet moved to another herd.

Gaboon antelopes are very fast animals, capable of running at top speeds of 70 m.p.h. for several miles without tiring. The smallest species belong to the genus Scopus. This is a species that lives strictly in male-female couples, usually with only one offspring. They inhabit bushy areas where they can find a thorn bush or low-growing tree to hide themselves or cuddle up under, rarely traveling far from their home. These animals are about 2 feet long, including the tail and weigh no more than 10 pounds. They are one of the smallest hooved mammals that ever lived. They can also be quite fast, and in escaping a predator, will even climb trees or seek refuge in an underground burrow abandoned by armadillos.

The greatest predators of these animals are the mongooses and deinognathids. They may also be taken by large snakes, lizards, and even predatory pentadactyls like Huaca. Many are also taken by crocodiles as they drink or bathe in the water.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Giant Single-Celled Animal

Probably the largest single-celled creature the World has ever known actually upturns everything we thought about early evolution. This is a big dude!! And it was around during the Precambrian period. Probably the largest creature around at that time. According to this article from Discovery News, it left trails that until now, stumped palaeontologists as to what made tracks in the mud some 600 million years ago. It basically bridged an evolutionary gap.


Single-Celled Giant Upends Early Evolution
Michael Reilly, Discovery News

Nov. 20, 2008 -- Slowly rolling across the ocean floor, a humble single-celled creature is poised to revolutionize our understanding of how complex life evolved on Earth.

A distant relative of microscopic amoebas, the grape-sized Gromia sphaerica was discovered once before, lying motionless at the bottom of the Arabian Sea. But when Mikhail Matz of the University of Texas at Austin and a group of researchers stumbled across a group of G. sphaerica off the coast of the Bahamas, the creatures were leaving trails behind them up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) long in the mud.

The trouble is, single-celled critters aren't supposed to be able to leave trails. The oldest fossils of animal trails, called 'trace fossils', date to around 580 million years ago, and paleontologists always figured they must have been made by multicellular animals with complex, symmetrical bodies.

But G. sphaerica's traces are the spitting image of the old, Precambrian fossils; two small ridges line the outside of the trail, and one thin bump runs down the middle.

At up to three centimeters (1.2 inches) in diameter, they're also enormous compared to most of their microscopic cousins.

"If these guys were alive 600 million years ago, and their traces got fossilized, a paleontologist who had never seen this thing would not have a shade of doubt attributing this kind of trace to the activity of a big, multicellular, bilaterally symmetrical animal," Matz said.

"This is a very important discovery," Shuhai Xiao of Virginia Polytechnic Institute said. "The fact that protists can make traces has important implications for how we interpret many trace fossils."

The finding could overturn conventional thinking on a mysterious time in the evolution of early life known as the Cambrian Explosion. Until about 550 million years ago, there were very few animals leaving trails behind. Then, within ten million years an unprecedented blossoming of life swarmed across the planet, filling every niche with hard-bodied, complex creatures.

"It wasn't a gradual development of complexity," Matz said. "Instead these things suddenly seemed to burst out of a magic box."

Charles Darwin first noticed the Cambrian Explosion and thought it was an artifact of a poorly preserved fossil record. The precambrian trace fossils were left by multicellular animals, he reasoned, so there must be some gap in fossils between the nearly empty Precambrian and the teeming world that quickly followed. But if the first traces were instead made by G. sphaerica, it would mean the Explosion was real; it must have been a diversification of life on a scale never before seen.

Genetic analysis of the water-filled G. sphaerica cells also reveals tantalizing clues that it could be the oldest living fossil on the planet.

"There's a 1.8 billion-year-old fossil in the Stirling formation in Australia that looks just like one of their traces, and with a discoidal body impression similar to these guys." Matz said. "We haven't proved anything, but we might be looking at the ultimate living macroscopic fossil."

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Family of the Week: The Therapeds!!

This is a group that I have extensively worked on. The family Therapedidae is a group of mammals, some are biped and some are quadruped, and occupy a wide number of niches during the Metazoic. Their base ancestor is today's elephant shrews, but these animals spread fast! Their range does not stop in Africa. When Africa collides with Europe it gives these animals an advantage in spreading. Though they are very good swimmers as well, and can cross some parts of the future Mediterranean sea. So it would not be too hard for these animals to reach Europe and Asia. They reach their greatest diversification when North America collides with Asia and the Therapeds are able to reach the Americas.

The therapeds range in size from the dainty Dendromillops to Vehemens. Most are vegetarians. Although some species, like Tachypus are known to be somewhat omnivorous. The widest-spread genus is that of Tachypus. This is also the Metazoic's fastest runner. They can out-run a cheetah! Some species of Tachypus can run as fast as 120 mph, and keep it up for several miles. They live in herds and are very migratory. They roam from one end of the North American continent to the other in search of food. Sometimes they even come within close range of other Tachypus species. The range of this genus is from South America all the way to Africa, and they are one of the most successful animals of the Metazoic. They keep their herds together with loud communicative calls that include squaks, barks, and bleeps. When danger is near, the leader of the herd gives out a series of loud clicking sounds and the herd usually turns and runs.

All therapeds have soft feet, rather like camels or hippos. Unlike their closest kin of the Metazoic, the Deinognathids, of which most species have well-developed hooves. The tail is long and thick, and held much like those of kangaroos. Most species are bipedal and run like ostriches. Those that use all fours run pretty much like dogs. I usually like to divide this family into 3 varieties. There are the Geotragines that are basically 4-legged, ground-dwelling species, the Therapedines that are 2-legged animals, and the Hylophagines, which are known on this site as "bark-peelers".

Geotragines originally derived mostly in America. Geotragus is a species that prefers to nest underground. Brittonia, is a large, horse-like theraped. Though they are large, they are not very numerous, due to their restricted range of the mountains of central Africa. They are one of the tallest therapeds, standing about 15-feet tall, and browse on lower branches, bushes, plants and grass. However, they are among the slowest reproducers among mammals during the Metazoic, and a female can only have young once every 4 years. It takes 2 years of pregnancy and 2 years to raise the young. Vehemens is the largest species, particularly V. australis. The total length, including the tail is around 30 feet, and weigh about 13 tons. Dichoceros is a tapir-sized theraped of the Amazon jungle, equipped with a hollow, Y-shaped horn that actually aids in vocalization. These mammals make loud, trumpeting sounds that can carry through the forests for miles. This allows them to lay claim to their territory. The horn however, is useless for defense or fighting of any kind. They are also the most social of all Geotragines, living in small, family-oriented herds.

The therapedines are the bipedal species, and also the most social, and migratory species. Unlike modern bipedal mammals, these animals do not hop, but rather they prefer to run like ostriches. Though some highly-energetic species like Tachypus are omnivorous, most other therapedines are vegetarians. The smallest is the rat-sized Dendromillops which lives in trees and feeds on it's leaves. At night, they also make nests of leaves in a tree hollow or small clump of branches. Some species live like mountain goats, like Oreogale and Labiocheilus. Both of these species are completely at home in the mountains and steep cliffs. Like mountain goats, they are capable of clinging to even nearly vertical surfaces. But unlike mountain goats, they can do it without using their front legs. Labiocheilus has another adaptation for this nearly vertical world it lives in, it has a very long, flexible upper lip. This allows these animals to grasp lichens, grass and moss that they favor that would be seemingly out of their reach. The lip acts rather like an elephant's proboscis to grasp the morsels and bring them to their mouth to be consumed. One species of Equitragus, known as the Arctic Thicktail, inhabits the high-polar areas. Their coat even has the ability to change color with the seasons, much like the snowshoe hare of today.

The most interesting therapedines of all is Anabracchium. This animal has completely lost it's front legs, and the body has gotten short, and globular in form. The neck is still as long as in other Therapeds though. These adaptations make this animal extremely streamlined for running, and they would be quite capable too of out-distancing a cheetah in no time flat! They can reach speeds of 70 mph from take-off, and keep it up for several miles. They stand about 7 feet tall, but most of that is legs and neck. They live in herds and can number in the hundreds of individuals. If caught by a predator, these animals are capable of kicking with their rear claws, but they usually prefer to run when they can.

The last group is also the smallest group, the Hylophagines. These are the bark-peelers of the Metazoic world. The reason they peel the bark off of certain trees is to get at the thick, rich, sweet, sappy flesh underneath. Sometimes they will eat the bark it's self, but their preference is with the flesh underneath. The trees they relish have co-adapted to tolerate this, and always regenerate new bark. Because of this, these animals tend to stay in forest areas where these trees are abundant. These animals are even good climbers. The bark is peeled from anywhere on the trees, and these animals have adapted to climb up to higher levels and branches to get the most out of each tree. These therapeds also take to trees when danger threatens. Two species are bipedal, and still capable of climbing very well. They are Genaceros and Dolichotherapes. Most of these species live in North America, while Hylophaga, also the largest species among the bark-peelers, is a quadruped and still inhabits the Old World.

Like all herding grass-eaters, therapeds have a wide variety of predators. Among the greatest are large mongooses, dogs and deinognathids. Sometimes predatory pteropods will also prey on the therapeds, particularly such large species as Cercomoloch and Pterdraco. Therapeds are ever-watchful for any threats. Some species are hard to approach by all but the most cooperative pack-hunting animals like dogs and certain deinognathids. Tachypus is actually a quite common victim of dogs, particularly Velocitherium. But difficult for most other predatory animals to approach because they are so alert and so quick to respond.

To view some of the Theraped species I have thought up for the Metazoic era, you can visit their page on our website, though I think I need to redo some of the pics!! They can be viewed here: http://www.metazoica.com/Therapeds.html

Alternate Humans

Usually alternate speculative biology isn't my thing. But after typing up last night's article, I thought about our aquatic lineage. I found myself doodling a bit last night and I came up with a creature as never before seen, but would have been what we'd look like today. There are some features I left out, and some I did to extremes. Most aquatic mammals are more intelligent, that could be what shaped our own intelligence. Probably how we got these big brains that science says we should never have evolved. It's true! However, I decided to keep the ape-like head features. I thought through a process of alternate evolution based on the presence of the semi-aquatic species Oreopithecus in our background. What if we had continued down that evolutionary road? Or if Oreopithecus had survived all this time, and certain individuals had continued down that road, leaving us, Homo sapiens, to inhabit the land. It could have happened. It happened in the evolution of whales. Not all individuals of the proto-species Indohyus stayed in the water. Surely some individuals evolved a land-based existence and became deer and pigs. Some deer are still semi-aquatic, and pigs like to roll around in mud, and the closely-related hippos (same lineage) are amphibius. But whales, the other descendants of Indohyus, are fully aquatic. So what if the same split happened to Oreopithecus, and both results are around today? That is what came to mind last night.

While one split of Oreopithecus was evolving on land to become us, Homo sapiens, the other split was evolving in the oceans. All fully-aquatic animals have short legs, so we lost our legs and instead grew seal-like flippers. The tail is gone, and won't come back. Our heads grew longer so we can stick our noses out of water to breathe without lifting our heads out, making us vulnerable to any land-based predators. Our hands are fully webbed. We no longer have any hair on our bodies, not even on the head or eyebrows, as they are not needed in the water. We lost sweat-glands. And the fat that accumulates in our body is put to good use. We even give birth in the water and our babies do not take their first breath until we break the sac at the surface. But the baby can still get a supply of oxygen through the umbilical cord until the mother breaks it off. We have nostrils that open and close as needed to keep water out. We have lobes on our ears that close tight to keep water out. We feed on fish and marine vegetation and can be pretty fast swimmers. Faster than any Olympic swimming champion! We are still about 5 feet long from the tip of the snout to the tip of the hind flippers.

I even thought of a name for this aquatic hominoid. I called it Thalanthropus aquaticus. Which means literally "Aquatic man of the ocean". And this is what the creature looks like:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why Humans Are Still Here

Perhaps the most successful animal ever to live is humans. Why are we successful? Believe it or not, we should not even be here. If we hadn't learned to build big civilizations and control fire, we would have become extinct long ago. It is actually our brain-power that made us so successful. Now me personally, I only have the smarts of a caveman! LOL! But people in general are the smartest of all living things. Other than our brain power, we are not equipped to survive at all in this world.

If humans still had to live like their earliest ancestors, we would not survive at all. We, unlike all other wild animals, do not have teeth or claws as defenses or weapons, we cannot run very fast, we are not as strong as other animals our size, our jaws are weak so we cannot kill or eat our food without specially-made weapons. And we are relatively delicate creatures, much more so than any other mammal our size, our bones are easily broken and our flesh is very easily torn and easy for a predator to bite into. All other prey animals have very tough flesh, are fast-moving, or have some kind of weapons of defense. People do not like to think of their species as being prey for others, but if we were still living in a wild state, we could very easily become targets for all kinds of large predators. Simply put, we would not survive the wild at all. Big predators would eat us into extinction.

Many other hominids have become extinct over the past 2 million years the family has been around. There was even one that was believed to be semi-aquatic and have partially-webbed hands and feet. It was a short-lived, yet crucial, part of our evolutionary outcome. Though we are related to gorillas, orangs and chimps, none of these other closely-related species can swim. Their skeletal structure is too heavy to keep them afloat, and the way the nostrils are placed on the face, water can get into their airway passages and the animals will drown quicker than a human would. It is believed that our nose is shaped the way it is now to help keep out water. Much like the proboscis monkey of Borneo, which is also a semi-aquatic species with a large nose. This could explain our ability to swim, whereas all our other living relatives take pains to avoid the water. This particular species is probably what shaped us into the species we are today.

It could also explain why humans are mostly hairless. Most aquatic mammals are indeed hairless, such as whales, dolphins and manatees. Hair, for the most part, is dead weight in the water. The only fully-aquatic mammal that has put it's fur to good use is the sea otter, and sea otters are relatively slow swimmers compared to seals and dolphins, and mostly just float on the surface of the water. The fur does provide buoyancy, but also keeps a layer of warm air next to the animal's skin to keep them from chilling in the water, especially at night when temperatures drop. But humans evolved in Africa, where it is hot, and it is believed we lost our fur to prevent overheating when we took to the African savannah, where it is much hotter than it is in the jungle where our closest wild kin, the chimpanzees, live. This also aided our semi-aquatic relatives that probably shaped us into the creatures we are now, from becoming waterlogged and drowning. One article I recently read also explains that we may have lost our fur to ward off parasites like ticks and fleas. Many parasite species carry deadly diseases, like plague and lyme disease. If we had fur, parasites would be very hard to spot and brush off since we could not see them in between the hair fibers. So one theory of why we are mostly hairless, whereas other primates aren't, is that it was a defense against parasites.

Somewhere back in our lineage, humans went from a semi-aquatic existence to a fully terrestrial existence. Why? Because the land offered so much more in the way of food for us to take fully to the waters. This is one time evolution took a U-turn. But as a result, we did suffer some problems. Among those is one problem I have been struggling with for several years, FAT!! This is also why we have problems in childbirth, why water births are much easier and less painful than giving birth lying out of water, on our backs. No other mammal feels as much pain in childbirth as we do. Also, because we are naked, we rely on the skins of other animals to keep us warm. Or we build heated structures today to shelter us from the elements. Not exactly what nature intended, but it's a product of our civilizations. We still have hair, it's just not as widesread on our bodies as it is in other land mammals. This also helped in learning to control fire, for heat and cooking, to tenderize our meat. All other living things fear fire and won't go near it, but humans have learned to use it to their advantage, especially today. Everything that made our societies and civilizations is controlled by fire. We use it to burn energy to light and warm our homes, cook, drive to work every day. Everything we are familiar with now is controlled in some way by fire. I say if dinosaurs had learned to exploit fire the way we have, they might still be around today!

Anyone else want to read about Oreopithecus, or the Aquatic Apes we descended from, there is an interesting article that discusses the proof that we did come from this creature. Click on this link to visit the Aquatic Ape Theory.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Minerals Evolved?

It's true, minerals evolved along with all life forms. They even went through cycles where they became extinct. I found this very interesting article today on my homepage.


Life and Minerals Evolve Together
Michael Reilly, Discovery News

Nov. 13, 2008 -- Etched in the shockwaves of exploding stars, in the gas and dust of fledgling stellar nebulae -- and in Earth's ample oceans, winds and fiery volcanoes -- the multi-billion-year history of minerals appears ageless to us mere mortals.

But an ambitious new study describes how these seemingly static forms have evolved through the ages, just like biological life. From the 12 "primordial" minerals forged inside supernovae to the 4,300 or so mineral species known today, minerals have diversified, grown in complexity, and even been driven into extinction.

"The most basic definition of evolution is change over time," said Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., who led a team of researchers in the work, published today in the journal American Minerologist. "And that's dramatically displayed in the stories of minerals."
Before life evolved on Earth, the slow, inexorable grind of plate tectonics created a total of 1,500 mineral species. Now, Hazen said, most minerals require living creatures to spring into existence.

"That's about as far as we think you can get without life," he said. That means about two-thirds of all known minerals depend on Earth's living creatures to survive.

In life's beginnings, it may have been the other way around.

"Many people believe that life first appeared from some sort of interaction of organic molecules on a mineral surface," said Peter Heaney of Pennsylvania State University.

Soon afterward, the earliest life forms began changing the same chemistry that formed them. About 2.3 billion years ago, photosynthetic organisms started consuming carbon dioxide and sunlight and exhaling oxygen. For the first time, our planet had free oxygen floating around in the atmosphere.

"Before that, if you left a piece of iron or steel on Earth's surface, it wouldn't rust," Hazen said. "But all of a sudden, life produced oxygen, and you start getting get rust -- and oxides of copper, manganese, and cobalt. There are literally thousands of minerals analogous to rust. You wouldn't have these without oxygen."

If all life were suddenly wiped out, the 20-percent-oxygen atmosphere we currently enjoy would vanish in a matter of years. Along with the O2, all those minerals would go extinct.
Minerals containing radioactive elements with short half-lives, such as plutonium, melted into extinction long ago (all plutonium on Earth today is man-made). And Heaney suspects there's a new field of mineral archaeology just waiting to be born.

"No one has ever mapped out mineral extinction in Earth's history," Heaney said. "In a way, [Hazen's] work forces us to think in those terms and look for the mineral equivalent of a fossil record."

I usually have my homepage set to Metazoica.com, but this time since I f-disked my computer, it's been set to the Toshiba website. I've just been too lazy to switch it back, but I like that, because it's got a list of scientific news articles from discovery.com, many about evolution. So when I see one that sounds particularly interesting, I'll share it here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Evolution of Whales

Personally, I love whales. They are one of my most favorite mammal families. So, I thought I would discuss the evolution of these very fascinating creatures. Whales once roamed the land, in fact their earliest relatives are very closely related to deer and pigs. I guess that explains why such animals as hippos closely resemble whales. The first whale was a raccoon-sized creature recently discovered in India, that somewhat resembled a cross between a dog and a deer, called Indohyus. It was also one of the earliest relatives of even-toed ungulates. As you can see, it had hooves, like deer. But the rest of it's anatomy is much like that of a small dog.

That was the earliest whale. Though we do not necessarily think of this when we hear the word whale. The skeletal structure was actually heavier than the structure of most mammals it's size, which allowed these animals to lead a somewhat semi-aquatic lifestyle. The heavy bones allowed these animals to remain submerged without floating to the surface of the water and was probably a defensive mechanism, or helped them find underwater food.

This animal was around some 50 million years ago, and basically crawled along the base of rivers and lakes. Another animal, slightly younger than Indohyus, was Pakicetus. It was a slightly more aquatic animal with very close-set eyes. The hooves of this animal had almost disappeared to become more like the feet seen in shrews.

It is also a lot more squat in structure. It also had a streamlined head. This was the next step in whale evolution. After this animal evolved, it went a step further to become an amphibius animal known as Ambulocetus. This was a rather large semi-aquatic animal, whose lifestyle was similar actually to crocodiles. It inhabited lakes, but took a lot of it's food from the land. Occasionally, they would travel on land as well to find other hunting grounds.

These animals were carnivorous, relying less on vegetation for food, it caught it's prey by stealth. In fact, at first all whales were killers. Ambulocetus was a rather slow swimmer, more like sea otters than like modern whales or dolphins. After Ambulocetus was an almost fully aquatic creature known as Rodhocetus. Though it was much more aquatic than Ambulocetus, it still retreated to land. Why is anybody's guess. Probably to bask in the sun or to supplement their diet with small land animals. It was believed, like Ambulocetus, to swim in a rather otter-like fashion. It is however, much more whale-like than it's earlier predecessors.

About 30 million years ago or so, these animals lost their legs and became another very whale-like animal known as Basilosaurus. Basilosaurus was a huge, serpentine whale that inhabited the ancient Tethys sea. Often, these animals still swam up to estuaries to hunt bathing animals. They were scary-looking, with a head much life a shark with crushing jaws and sharp teeth.

This animal was first thought to be a giant lizard, but further studies have pinpointed it as the closest relatives to dolphins. As you can see, they still have remnants of their back legs, but they are greatly reduced and almost useless for all but to steady the females for mating. No modern whale has this, although a bottlenose dolphin, who was a freak of nature was spotted in 2006 that still had hind flippers similar to these. But it was just one animal with some kind of genetic mutation. Indeed embryonic dolphins still have the rear flippers, but these disappear later on in their development.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Link Between Human Hair and Dinosaur Claws

I always knew this, but it makes for such fascinating reading!


The origins of hair date back 310-330 million years ago to the last common ancestor of mammals, birds and lizards, according to a new study that discovered genes associated with hair production in living green anole lizards and chickens.

While lizards and chickens are not hairy, their claws contain proteins nearly identical to those found in the human hair shaft, fingernails and toenails, on the surface of the tongue and within the thymus gland.

Since the last common ancestor of mammals, birds and lizards lived before the first true dinosaurs emerged, both dinosaurs and humans appear to have inherited the genes responsible for human hair and animal claws. In short, the structure of our hair and nails may add to the evidence that we are distantly related to dinosaurs and many other creatures, both extinct and living.

"Our hypothesis is that the common ancestor evolved claw proteins because claws were helpful in climbing," lead author Leopold Eckhart told Discovery News. "Later in evolution, but only in mammals, the same proteins were also produced at other sites of the skin and were used to build hair."

Eckhart, a researcher in the Department of Dermatology at the Medical University of Vienna, and his team built their research upon prior work by the Broad Institute in Boston, which unraveled the complete genome of the green anole lizard, a popular terrarium reptile.

Comparison of the Broad Institute data with the genomes of humans and chickens -- representing all birds -- allowed Eckhart and his colleagues to identify hair proteins, known as hair keratin, in all three test groups: chicken, lizard and human.

Eckhart explained that the genes responsible for hair keratin production stand out from other genes due to certain unique properties. These characteristics were present in the three seemingly diverse studied animal groups.

The findings are published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Genes are arranged on chromosomes like pearls on a string," he said. "The arrangement of most genes has not changed during evolution. Mammalian hair keratins and the hair keratins of the lizard are flanked by the same genes."

"Going back in time, the common ancestor must have had a gene at this position from which hair keratin genes of both mammals and lizards evolved," he added.

The researchers additionally found that keratin proteins in lizards and humans contain a high content of an amino acid called cysteine. Tracing the history of this acid, the scientists found it didn't just suddenly arise by chance during mammalian evolution, but instead was inherited from the ancient common ancestor.

The particulars of this important animal relative remain unknown, but scientists can make some educated guesses.

"Probably it was more similar to a lizard than to modern mammals or birds," Eckhart said. "It is likely that this ancestor had claws, which it may have used for climbing."

The first mammal emerged sometime later, likely between 160 and 220 million years ago. Since the researchers believe hair keratins evolved earlier than hair itself, some of the first mammals could have sported a warm, furry coat.

Genes for hair loss are also in the news, as another scientific team recently found a gene linked to human baldness that can be inherited from an individual's mother or father. Previously, yet another gene associated with hair loss was identified, but it only passes down through the maternal line.

"This (latest finding) helps to provide an explanation for the similarity between father and son," said Markus Nöthen, who led the study and is a professor at Bonn University's Institute of Human Genetics and the Life & Brain Center.

Nöthen explained that the discovery not only explains why bald fathers often produce sons who later experience hair loss, but also why men often take after their maternal grandfathers, at least in terms of hair.

Eckhart and his team are currently trying to find the mechanism that allowed mammals to use keratins of animal claws to produce hair. Such studies may not only solve mysteries about how humans and other mammals first evolved, but they might also lead to improved hair growth treatments in future.

Family of the Week: The Monotypic Mott

The family Heitostiidae consists of one genus and species. It is a huge rodent that lives in the water, taking the place of modern hippos, only found in the Amazon River system. They are rather long in body, short legs, large head, and a mouth that can open a full 90 degrees. The ears are small and round, and the eyes are medium-sized. The males also have a fleshy horn structure on the end of the nose. The males use this horn for sparring. The females completely lack this structure.

Like modern hippos, these large rodents stay submerged in the water, only coming on shore occasionally to feed on plants and flowers. The nostrils are placed on top of the muzzle, as are the eyes and ears. This way, these animals can hide under the water with nothing more than their eyes, ears and nostrils above the surface. They are rather large rodents, about 10 feet long, and have no tail. The feet are fully webbed. These animals are strict vegetarians, feeding on any green vegetation they can find under the water or on land. They sometimes travel in small herds when retreating to land to feed. Or live in small family groups when submerging in the river.

Due to their size and aggressive nature, most predators leave these animals alone. They are generally left alone by crocodilians or large predatory fish. The only animals they may encounter problems with are the large deinognathids. These are very slow, deliberate swimmers, sometimes they creep and crawl along the river floor, sometimes they stroke through the upper levels of the water. They are capable of staying under water for a period of about 30 minutes without the need to breathe again. When diving, these animals close their ears tight, and the eyes are covered with a very thin nictitating membrane. Thus their eyes stay protected from sand and other debris, while they are still able to see underwater.

Picture coming soon, as soon as I can fix one up.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back from Extinction

If I could bring any animal(s) back from extinction, which one(s) would I bring? Well, I'd love to have all the Hawaiian Honeycreepers come back. I'd love to see them. They evolved from finches millions of years ago that somehow wandered to the Hawaiian Islands. Even today, many of them are beautiful!! Some look a little like hummingbirds or sunbirds, most look like finches.

Many species of honeycreepers went extinct over the past 2000 years, since the Polynesians introduced the polynesian rat. Rats often eat bird eggs for protein, and this species found it easy to prey on the eggs and nestlings of these birds. But that isn't all, mongooses, cats, sheep, goats, and several other introduced species have been actively wiping the native birds of Hawaii out. The most recent extinction within this family came in 1998, that year, at least 3 species were pronounced or assumed extinct. I think I still have a picture of one of them somewhere, the O-u (Psittirostra psittacea), it was often called the "parrot-bill". But it hasn't been seen since the late 90s. It's really sad, that was a species that relied totally on a certain tree for food, and sheep and goats that were introduced to Hawaii in the 18th century, were eating the young trees. Over the course of 2000 years, 20 species of Hawaiian Honeycreepers have become extinct. That's one species every 200 years!!

Well, that's just one family I'd like to see brought back from extinction. I think also it would be cool to see a live T. rex. Probably eat me up, but at least I could die happy having seen a sight no other human has ever seen, a live tyrannosaur!! And hey, it's better to go by way of animal predation than to be snuffed out by a madman's bullet!!! *wink* hehe!


In fact, I'd love to see any dinosaur be brought back to life today. It's really a shame the dinosaurs went extinct. Most of today's predators SUCK compared to them. I mean, seeing a lion or tiger would be nowhere near as exciting as seeing a tyrannosaur!!! Or even a velociraptor!

Now, raptors are figured to have had feathers, like birds. This is cool, I think. It proves there is a possibility these animals did in fact survive the extinction event that killed off the other dinosaurs. They just don't look like this anymore. As dangerous as it may be to be in the same room with one of these, I'd love to see one.

Those are the animals I would love to bring back from extinction.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The "Pig-Horses": The Family of the Week!!

This is a group of animals I call the Choerocaballids, or "Pig-horses". It is in fact no relation to either pigs or horses, but descendants of elephant shrews. Elephant shrews start off in Africa, as we know today. This family is actually the earliest step to elephant shrews evolving into the therapeds. Most are semi-carnivorous and quadrupeds. The earliest species is Ropalacodas, which resembles a pig with dog-like feet and a long thick tail tipped with a blunt club. The tail is the main method of defense against the harsh African predators of the Metazoic. They use this tail to swat at predators. When that does not work, Ropalacodas has sharp tusks to gore predators with, and a bad attitude, and it usually scares the attackers off.

The branch-off family of Therapeds began in Asia actually, but the Choerocaballids make it to the New World before that happens once Africa collides with Europe and Asia collides with North America. It is Terazodus that migrates to Europe and thus evolves into the Therapeds. Terazodus is a compact, horse-like animal that lives in herds and is often herding with antelope. This is what leads them into the new world of Europe. They actually adapt quite well there and it is the vast forests that allows these animals to stand upright and become the Therapeds. Terazodus will sometimes stand on their hind legs to reach the lower levels of tree branches to feed on, or to scan for predators. But since Terazodus is not a native to Europe or Asia, they tend to want to head back to their homeland of Africa. These animals are very horse-like in appearance, until you get to the feet and tail. The feet are rather dog-like, and the tail is very long, and males of the species have stone-like growths on the end of the tail they use to smack at a predator, much like Ropalacodas. Usually when they are running from a predator, the first thing that gets grabbed is the tail, the tail of these animals is powerful enough to shake the predator off, and then swat it with the sharp projections at the end of the tail to stun the predator from attacking it again. Unlike Ropalacodas, these animals are not equipped with slashing tusks, so they rely heavily on their tail for protection.

In Europe, these animals often side up with herding European antelope species and migrate to the New World with them. This is how they conquer the Americas. The last species to evolve is Choerocaballus in the New World, it is a very horse-like animal with a relatively short, thick tail. No clubs or spikes at the end of the tail, as this animal relies more on speed to save it from predators. The feet are more hooved than in any other member of this family, thus making them more streamlined for running. They live in large herds, much like Terazodus. But unlike Terazodus, they travel with their own species, instead of siding with herds of antelope or any other ungulates. They are highly alert, for by the time these animals reach the New World, the Deinognathids have evolved to prey on them! With them, and large predatory rats, and mongooses the size of pickup trucks, the world of Choerocaballus is a truly scary world!!

No member of this family is truly very large. Some species of Ropalacodas can reach 10 feet in length, not counting the tail. But they are rather squat animals that are only about 4 or 5 feet tall. For the most part, these animals are no bigger than average horses. They all have an omnivorous diet, feeding on anything they can find, any vegetation, insects, berries, fruits, bird eggs, and small vertebrates in their range.