Some Snapshots of Life on Gondwana
Gondwana was one of two huge land masses on this planet hundreds of years ago. The first large land mass (Pangaea) split into two large super-continents and Gondwana was the more southern of the two. It included land from current-day Australia, South America and more and this mass was located mostly inside the Antarctic Circle. The climate there at the time of Gondwana was very different from the climate that we envision Antarctica having today. The polar regions were warmer (Earth as a whole was warmer during the Cretaceous Era) as deduced through studies of oxygen isotopes and types of plant life. And the very uneven distribution of the large land masses would have forced ocean air currents and seasonal winds to flow farther across the southern polar area than in our current-day which would have kept the water temperature warmer as well. In fact, some studies suggest that there were no ice caps and even some large forests that covered the land all the way to the South Pole. However, before we think of a beautiful almost perfect paradise, it must be remembered that while the surface of the Earth has changed over millions of years, the axis tilt of the earth has not changed and so this beautiful and not-quite-as-cold-as-we-had-imagined area would also have a polar night. (a period of darkness due to the earth's tilt away from the sun that can last weeks or months.) This would still make Gondwana an area that would make survival for the frail impossible- and even the hardy would have quite a challenge.
Studying history has been something that I have enjoyed for as long as I can remember. It became one of my favorite and easiest subjects at school and I have spent more hours than I can estimate of my life delving into the known facts and interpretation of someone else's life. Evolution, while I think considered a 'science only' by many, clearly is a way of seeing history as well- a history of the growth of life as it were. There are those that see evolution as a theory that stands against and opposes creationism... and therefore is false, evil and must be opposed by anyone that believes in Heavenly Father or a divine creator. I have never seen evolution in this light. In fact, the more I study it, the stronger my testimony of a brilliant, creative and loving Father becomes. My study of Gondwana was such a journey. Learning about the world and the rise and fall of some of the Father's great creations that came in their time and season and are now gone is a study of ourselves and our true worth. It was also a testimony to me of the knowledge that all of his creations- from dinosaurs to beasts to us- was clearly carefully planned and each of us is known to the Father.
So here is just a taste of what you can find it you start looking into the fauna that inhabited this world.... I have included images, but of course all of these images are educated guesses on what the creature actually looked like. I have also added clarification on how each animal got its name- an (*) means that they were named to honor those who found them and not using the typical Greek or Latin.
1. Koolasuchus (*)– This was a amphibian that lived on the part of Gondwana now known as Australia. It was carnivorous and fed on turtles, crayfish, and other prey. This particular animal is notable for two reasons: it was one of the largest of its class with a huge head compared to its weak body and limbs and it also managed to survive longer than most of its close relations who lived farther north. This animal could be 16 feet long but was only about one foot high. It could reach up to 1000 lbs so it must have been a very formidable predator in the water. It would have been not quite been as formidable on land as he would have been weaker and slower than most of the land inhabitants.
2. Cryolophosaurus (cold crest lizard) - This is the first carnivorous dinosaur to ever be discovered on the continent of modern day Antarctica. It is estimated to have been approx. 21 feet long and 1000 lbs. This dinosaur was very difficult to classify because it has some traits that are classified as primitive by paleontologists and it have some which are considered advanced. At one time it was considered the earliest known member of the Tetanuran group, but time and more study have suggested that this animal is more closely related to Dilophosaurus.
3. Muttaburrasaurus ( Muttaburra lizard ) - This dinosaur lived on the continent we now call Australia. It is related to Iguanodon and averaged around fifteen feet in height, twenty three feet in length, and 1-4 tons. It appears to have had the capability of moving on either all four legs or just the back two. Its food supply appears to have been mostly tough vegetation and it has a spiked thumb, which might have come in handy for threatening others or for something as silly as possibly picking debris from its teeth. At this stage, we don't know...
4. Mapusaurus (earth lizard) - These animals have remains that have been found in the land that is now known as Argentina and is related to the Giganotosaurus. This is a huge dinosaur by any standard with some specimens measuring over 40 feet in length and 3000 lbs. These were large meat hunters and debate is currently raging about whether these dinosaurs hunted in groups like wolves or alone or simply in a blundering mob. Because of large fossil finds of this dinosaur, some paleontologists are suggesting that only by having a social group of these animals could they have hunted huge prey such as Argentinosaurus- past theory has held that large meat eating dinosaurs lived and hunted alone.
5. Argentinosaurus (silver lizard) - This is a dinosaur that still remains much of a mystery as few fossils/bones have been found. Its continental place of residence is now known as South America. Estimates on body size are approx 100-125 feet long and 110 tons and have been made on these pieces as no complete dinosaur has been found. It is guessed to be the heaviest sauropod known to man currently. Its existence was only discovered in the 1990's.
6. Megaraptor (giant thief) – This dinosaur is mostly known for its huge one foot long claw that could be found on its hands. It has the most distinctive hand of any other animal in its scientific group and was fairly advanced for a animal living at its time. It could grow to approx 26 feet long, 13 feet tall, and was one of the smartest dinosaurs you could find. This probably made him a very, very dangerous predator. Fossils for it can be found on the continent of South America.
7. Dicynodon (double-dog tooth) – This guy is really cool because he only has two teeth. His canines are still there (and quite large I might add), but the rest of his teeth had developed into a rather thick bill/beak/mouth. So it looks like he had a horned mouth with two small tusks. It is guessed that he used his beak to eat vegetation rather like a turtle while using the tusks to possibly dig up roots from the ground. It averaged around 3 ½ feet in length and remains have been found in modern day South Africa, Russia, China, and Tanzania.
8. Rebbachisaurus (Rebbach lizard) - This dinosaur is a massive plant eater that is from the sauropod family- long neck, small head and a long tail. It is distinctive from its relations by an unusually tall,'ruffled' or ridged back. It seems to have lived in Northern Africa due to fossil concentrations there. They averaged 66 feet in length and were around 30 feet tall. Due to there size and from the fossil record, it is believed that they walked on all fours.
There are so many that are documented - the world was truly full of life at that time. But we as a race know so little about these creatures that came before us... and when it comes to the 'southern' dinosaurs and other fauna we know even less. Some of that is the fault of proximity. Living on the pieces of Laurasia, many paleontologists here naturally focus on the 'northern' animals. Our newspapers will put more focus on news that concerns the finds of fossils that are geologically closer. And our books do tend to focus on 'northern' dinosaurs so as kids grow up, we continue the cycle. If the dinosaurs they knew and played with while growing up were all 'northern' breeds, those will be the breeds that they know and are most exited and interested in introducing to their children. Some fault can also be placed on the idea that many southern dinosaurs are relatively new discoveries- last few decades- while there have been very new northern dinosaur discoveries recently.
I really enjoyed looking at these dinosaurs. I found some fun books that I really enjoyed looking at that I ordered from looking on-line (no one of seven local libraries had anything except for a passing glance on Gondwana and all the dinosaur books I could find didn't have even one 'southern' animal. If I hadn't stumbled across the poster that sent me on my search to discover Gondwana, I probably would have thought that I had a pretty good basic knowledge of prehistoric dinosaurs and animals. I now know that would be incorrect opinion.). I also managed to watch a few excellent BBC video documentaries (Walking with Monsters and Walking with Dinosaurs) on prehistory animals and they were 'spot on' - I really loved them and found myself enthralled watching the creatures living out a story line that was written today, but could easily have been the story of so many of the animals living then.
So this was a fun journey. A journey that I think I might continue in my spare time. I have found a new enthusiasm for prehistoric animals and their world than I have felt in a while. My enthusiasm combined with Bug's curiosity open the promise of a lot of fun with dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts for a while to come.