Standing 16 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing 20 tons, Paraceratherium was one of the largest mammals to ever walk the Earth.
That may seem pretty puny by dinosaurian standards, but, at the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions that house reconstructions of the 34-23 million year old animal, the hornless rhino towers over every other beast. Only a few extinct elephants have come close to its impressive stature.
As is often the case with the large and fossiliferous, though, it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the nature of the beast and forget the history that assembled the creature before us. University of Manchester historian Chris Manias recounts the tale in a new paper.
In the case of Paraceratherium, the great rhino only emerged after years of toil, study, and, most importantly, collaboration between researchers who were independently drawn to the remains of the same giant.
Before the rhino could get a name or start casting shade over museum halls, the titan had to be discovered.
The British paleontologist Clive Forster-Cooper had the honor.
Curious about fossils regularly found by England’s Indian Geological Survey among the Bugti Hills of Baluchistan, Foster-Cooper organized a 1910-1911 expedition to see the fossils for himself.
The work was more difficult than Forster-Cooper had hoped. In the age of imperial paleontology, he took the traditional route of hiring unskilled local workers who he frequently groused about to his esteemed colleagues elsewhere.
Not only were the local Nawab people suspicious of the paleontologist’s true motives – who would be travel all the way out there for old bones? – but Forster-Cooper complained that he had to fire three workers for “idleness and insubordination” and did not trust the remaining three with anything more than rudimentary digging around.
When British explorers happened upon Kangaroo Island—south of what today is the city of Adelaide—the animals took them by surprise.
Unlike the wild ‘roos of the mainland, who knew to keep their distance, these creatures were utterly tame and approachable (so much so that the arriving crew reportedly slaughtered 31 for a giant kangaroo stew).
The reason the animals were unaccustomed to humans (and tragically unfamiliar with their bad habits) was because no humans lived there. Aboriginals had once inhabited the island, but they’d abandoned it at least 2000 years prior, for reasons unknown.
After a couple of centuries of life alongside human settlers, the animals here are understandably a little more wary—but the humans, for their part, have gotten a lot more respectful. Which means that today, this one of the most incredible places to get up close and personal with some very interesting creatures out in the wild.
The best way to meet them is to tour with a local company like Exceptional Kangaroo Island.
Experienced guides are familiar with the animals and their habitats—so they can probably find you a tricky-to-spot echidna and point out where a koala is likely to be hiding in the crook of a tree—but they also ensure that you won’t bother the animals in the process.
(And in lieu of kangaroo stew, they serve fantastic lunches that highlight the local produce.)
Dragons – In her book Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts, Alixe Bovey explains “the monsters of the Bible are few, but important: the first is the serpent who tempts Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, resulting in their expulsion from Paradise.
Generally interpreted to be the Devil in disguise, in several ways this serpent is the archetype for demonic monsters of the Middle Ages.
Its snaking body a kind of metaphor for opportunistic cunning, the serpent is able to prey on human weaknesses such as pride and greed.”
The dragon is the ultimate form of the serpent and can be found in many medieval tales. In bestiaries it is said that their most powerful weapon is the tail, which could be used to squeeze and suffocate their prey.
Elephants are said to be their mortal enemy, but one can also find several saints who do battle with dragons.
Humans are naturally afraid of the dark, mostly because it can cloak myriad dangers. But take a closer look, and it turns out many of the creatures that go bump in the night are adorable, resourceful and awe-inspiring.
Now fossil studies suggest that the very first mammals may have been born into darkness.
Today a wide variety of known animal species are nocturnal, mostly active at night, or crepuscular, mostly active at dawn and dusk.
These behaviors offer three main advantages: reduced competition for resources with daytime critters, protection from heat and water loss in arid regions and a way to hide from predators or find unsuspecting prey.
Photographer Traer Scott became fascinated with night-dwellers while watching moths fly near her porch lights on summer evenings—and then thinking about the bats that prey on those moths.
In her new book, Nocturne: Creatures of the Night (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014), Traer highlights the diversity of nocturnal species around the world, offering a glimpse at birds, bats, spiders and other animals that most humans rarely see.
While nocturnality makes sense for those animals and many others today, how or why it first emerged has been unclear. One prevailing scientific theory was that nocturnality evolved in early mammals as a defensive strategy to escape the jaws of predatory dinosaurs, which were mostly active during the day.
But according to research recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. being nocturnal may have been the status quo for the common ancestor of all mammals.
Traer Scott is an award winning photographer and the bestselling author of four books including Shelter Dogs and the recently released Newborn Puppies; Dogs In Their First Three Weeks from Chronicle Books.
Her work has been featured in National Geographic, Life, Vogue, People, O, and dozens of other major national and international publications.