Monday, April 5, 2010

Oh, That? It’s Just My Prehistoric Whale-Dog

New favorite thing: the mesonychid, a carnivorous mammal that lived between 65 and 56 million years ago on nearly every continent.

Though the creature superficially resembles a wolf, it’s actually more closely related to cetaceans — that is, dolphins, whales and porpoises — and artiodactyls — even-toed hoofed animals like pigs, sheep, deer, giraffes, and hippopotami. The fact that a predatory land animal could be closely related to both whales and sheep is nearly enough for me, but there’s more. The mesonychid (literally “middle claw”) was a jackal-sized apex predator throughout much of Paleocene Asia. Late in the species’ evolution, it walked on its toes, all of which ended in tiny hooves, lending them the description “wolves on hooves.”

And that’s just neat.

So please add the mesonychid to the list of Amazing Animals That Actually Happened, alongside the anteater, the cassowary, the axolotl and the milk-sweating platypus.

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