1. The daddy of all lions.
Name: Panthera atrox, meaning “cruel panther”.
Just how big: Up to 2.5 metres long.
Extant until: 11,000 years ago.
That’s a lifesize model of the unnecessarily big American lion. Probably the biggest big cat ever to live, it’s thought that one could take down a freakin’ mammoth on its own. I don’t think kids would have been allowed to play with real ones.
2. The daddy of all bears.
Name: Arctodus simus, meaning “short-faced bear”.
Just how big: Weighed up to 900 kilograms.
Extant until: 11,600 years ago.
Despite the name this bear was no shorty - standing at around 3 metres on its hind legs. It consumed 16 kilograms of flesh a day, using its huge size to scare off the above American lion and steal its kills.
3. Enormous wolves.
Name: Canis dirus, meaning “fearsome dog”.
Just how big: About 1.5 metres long.
Extant until: 10,000 years ago.
Okay, so that’s a picture of a direwolf from Game of Thrones. But as it happens, dire wolves did actually exist, and were actually enormous. Like modern wolves they hunted in packs although their (literally) bone-crushing bite was over 100% more powerful.
4. Giant birds.
Name: Aepyornis, meaning “high bird”.
Just how big: Over 3m tall.
Extant until: Within the past few hundred years.
If anyone needed any evidence that birds are just dinosaurs in disguise, take a look at that thing. The aptly-named elephant bird had eggs big enough to fit 160 chicken eggs inside.
5. The bird that ate the giant birds.
Name: Harpagornis moorei, meaning “Moore’s grappling hook bird”.
Just how big: Wingspan of up to 3m.
Extant until: Around 600 years ago.
More commonly called Haast’s eagle, seen above going for some giant moa. Noted in some Maori legends as killing humans, I think Wikipedia describes their ferocity best: “Its size and weight indicate a bodily striking force equivalent to a cinder block falling from the top of an eight-story building.”
6. A hulked-out sloth.
Name: Megatherium, meaning “great beast”.
Just how big: Up to 6 metres long.
Extant until: 10,500 years ago.
Giant ground sloths were weird. For a start, it’s a sloth the size of an elephant. It had claws that were so long (over a foot!) it had to walk on the sides of its feet. Not to mention that waggly tongue used for foraging leaves - although debate still rages over whether it was partly carnivorous.
7. Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?
Name: Wonambi naracoortensis, meaning “rainbow serpent of Naracoorte”.
Just how big: Up to 6m long.
Extant until: 50,000 years ago.
That creature that it’s taking down by constriction is a marsupial the size of a modern lion. Wonambi is so-called because it is thought to be the inspiration for the Australian Aboriginal legend of the Rainbow Serpent.
8. A big, fat rat.
Name: Canariomys bravoi, meaning “Bravo’s Canary Islands rat”.
Just how big: Including the tail, over a metre long.
Extant until: Roughly 100,000 years ago.
This nasty specimen weighed about a kilogram and hung about in Tenerife. Well, more than hung about - fossil remains seem to show that the island was covered in them, making it a veritable nightmare for anyone with the same phobia as Winston Smith.
9. King Kong.
Name: Gigantopithecus, meaning “giant ape”.
Just how big: Up to 3m tall.
Extant until: 100,000 years ago.
Can you guess which one above is Gigantopithecus? Despite the terrifying appearance, these giant apes were peaceful plant-eaters and co-existed with anatomically modern humans for tens of thousands of years in Southeast Asia.
10. This not-so-cute owl.
Name: Ornimegalonyx, meaning “giant clawed bird”.
Just how big: Over a metre tall.
Extant until: About 10,000 years ago.
Just in case you wanted that dinosaur-bird link reiterating, here’s the Cuban giant owl, proudly displaying its talons of death. It’s thought that it could take down prey as heavy as 35 kilograms.
11. Seriously intense giant lemurs.
Name: Megaladapis meaning “giant adapiform”.
Just how big: Weighed up to 50kg.
Extant until: About 500 years ago.
This is a sort of zoned-out giant koala/lemur/Alf-lookalike; an unusual creature that has no real equivalents today. But just look at its eyes. It knows something that we don’t.
12. A cat with sabres for teeth.
Name: Smilodon, meaning “carving-knife tooth”.
Just how big: Weighed up to 400kg.
Extant until: 10,000 years ago.
Evolution’s taking the Mickey with this one. As if the massive frame of the sabre-toothed cat wasn’t enough, it has a couple of 30 centimetre-long serrated throat-slashers stapled to its face.
13. Monstrous elks.
Name: Megaloceros giganteus, meaning “giant great horn”.
Just how big: Over 2 metres tall at the shoulders.
Extant until: 7,700 years ago.
The demonic antlers of the Irish elk were so big (spanning up to 3.65 metres across) it was thought that they may have played some part in their extinction. That’s some unpractical headgear.
14. This hippopotamus-sized wombat.
Name: Diprotodon, meaning “two forward teeth”.
Just how big: Weighing up to 2,800 kilograms.
Extant until: About 50,000 years ago.
15. And real-life dragons.
Name: Megalania, meaning “great roamer”.
Just how big: Up to 7m long.
Extant until: About 40,000 years ago.
They couldn’t breathe fire or fly - but they didn’t need to. Megalania was so big it could easily feed on the likes of the giant wombat, seen above. But wait, there’s more! It was also venomous, making it the largest venomous creature ever to have walked on land.
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