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Encyclopedia > Pleistocene megafauna

Pleistocene megafauna is the set of species of large animals -- mammals, birds and reptiles -- that lived on Earth during the Pleistocene epoch and are now extinct. These species appear to have died off as humans expanded out of Africa and Eurasia, the only continents that still retain a diversity of megafauna comparable to what was lost. Three theories have been given for these extinctions: hunting by the spreading humans, climatic change, and spreading disease. A combination of those explanations could be correct. Image File history File links Please see the file description page for further information. ... Introduction Eighteen thousand years ago at the height of the last ice age in North America the land not ice covered looks like a park with mixed trees and grass There are mastodons and mammoths whose young are being killed by massive lions and sabertooth cats. ... The hierarchy of scientific classification. ... Subclasses & Infraclasses Subclass †Allotheria* Subclass Prototheria Subclass Theria Infraclass †Trituberculata Infraclass Metatheria Infraclass Eutheria Mammals (class Mammalia) are warm-blooded, vertebrate animals characterized by the production of milk in female mammary glands and by the presence of: hair, three middle ear bones used in hearing, and a neocortex region in... For other uses, see Bird (disambiguation). ... Subclasses Anapsida Diapsida Synonyms Reptilia Laurenti, 1768 Reptiles are tetrapods and amniotes, animals whose embryos are surrounded by an amniotic membrane, and members of the class Sauropsida. ... The Pleistocene epoch (IPA: ) on the geologic timescale is the period from 1,808,000 to 11,550 years BP. The Pleistocene epoch had been intended to cover the worlds recent period of repeated glaciations. ... A division of geologic time less than a period and greater than an age. ... This article is about modern humans. ... A world map showing the continent of Africa Africa is the worlds second-largest and second most-populous continent, after Asia. ... For other uses, see Eurasia (disambiguation). ... It has been suggested that Charismatic megafauna be merged into this article or section. ... The word theory has a number of distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their methodologies and the context of discussion. ... “Hunter” redirects here. ... Variations in CO2, temperature and dust from the Vostok ice core over the last 400,000 years For current global climate change, see Global warming. ... The term disease refers to an abnormal condition of an organism that impairs function. ...



This theory holds Pleistocene humans responsible for the megafaunal extinction. One variant, often referred to as overkill, is that humans hunted the megafauna to extinction in a short time. There is some direct evidence for this. Fossil evidence of megafauna found in conjunction with human remains has been found. Particularly important is that with evidence of hunting, such as embedded arrows and tool cut marks in the bones, and cave paintings depicting hunting. Biogeographical evidence is also suggestive; the areas of the world where humans evolved still have more of their Pleistocene megafaunal diversity (the elephants and rhinos of Asia and Africa) compared to the areas that didn't have early man, Australia, the New World, Madagascar and New Zealand. To conform with this evidence, we can see that the megafauna of Asia and Africa evolved with man, thus learning to be wary of them, whereas in other parts of the world the wildlife was ecologically naive and easier to hunt. This is particularly true of island fauna, which notoriously display no fear of man. This article does not cite any references or sources. ... “Hunter” redirects here. ... Biogeography is the science which deals with patterns of species distribution and the processes that result in such patterns. ... Genera and Species Loxodonta Loxodonta cyclotis Loxodonta africana Elephas Elephas maximus Elephas antiquus † Elephas beyeri † Elephas celebensis † Elephas cypriotes † Elephas ekorensis † Elephas falconeri † Elephas iolensis † Elephas planifrons † Elephas platycephalus † Elephas recki † Stegodon † Mammuthus † Elephantidae (the elephants) is a family of pachyderm, and the only remaining family in the order Proboscidea... Black Rhino from Howletts Wild Animal Park For other uses, see Rhinoceros (disambiguation). ... World map showing the location of Asia. ... A world map showing the continent of Africa Africa is the worlds second-largest and second most-populous continent, after Asia. ... Frontispiece of Peter Martyr dAnghieras De orbe novo (On the New World). Carte dAmérique, Guillaume Delisle, 1722. ...

Circumstantially, the close correlation in time between the appearance of man in an area and extinction there provides weight to this theory. This is perhaps the strongest evidence, as it is almost impossible that it could be coincidental when we have so many data points. For example, the woolly mammoth survived on islands despite worsening climatic conditions for thousands of years after the end of the last glaciation, while they died when humans arrived around 1700 BC. The megafaunal extinctions covered a vast period of time and highly variable climatic situations. The earliest extinctions in Australia were complete approximately 30,000 BP, well before the last glacial maximum and before rises in temperature. The most recent extinction in New Zealand was complete no earlier than 500 YBP and during a period of cooling. In between these extremes megafaunal extinctions have occurred progressively in such places as North America, South America and Madagascar with no climatic commonality. The only common factor that can be ascertained is the arrival of man. The neoglaciation was a period of the Holocene starting around 5500 BP (3500 BC) and ending in the 20th century. ...

Climate change

An alternative explanation offered by many scientists is that the extinctions were caused by climatic change following the last Ice Age. Critics object that since there were multiple Ice Ages in the evolutionary history of many of the megafauna,it is rather incredible that only after the last glacial would there be such extinctions. Variations in CO2, temperature and dust from the Vostok ice core over the last 400 000 years For the animated movie, see Ice Age (movie). ...

Some evidence weighs against this theory as applied to Australia. It has been shown that the prevailing climate at the time of extinction (40-50,000 BP) was similar to that of today, and that the extinct animals were strongly adapted to an arid climate. The evidence indicates that all of the extinctions took place in the same short time period, which was the time when humans entered the landscape. The main mechanism for extinction was likely fire (started by man) in a then much less fire-adapted landscape. Isotopic evidence shows sudden changes in the diet of surviving species, which could correspond to the stress they experienced before extinction [1] [2] [3].


Some research has looked at the possibility a pandemic or hyperdisease could have caused the megafaunal extinction.[1] According to this theory, large mammals were particularly vulnerable because they were fewer in number than smaller species. Body size and population size tend to be inversely related (because larger species require more food per individual to survive). This article is about large epidemics. ...

Diseases imported by people have been responsible for extinctions in the recent past; for example, bringing avian malaria to Hawaii has had a major impact on the isolated birds of the island. MacPhee is searching DNA in mammoth remains from Wrangel Island in Siberia; he hopes to find evidence of infection. Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites. ... The structure of part of a DNA double helix Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a nucleic acid molecule that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. ... This article is about the Russian island. ... “Siberian” redirects here. ... An infection is the detrimental colonization of a host organism by a foreign species. ...

One suggestion is that pathogens were transmitted by the expanding humans via the domesticated dogs they brought with them.[citation needed] Unfortunately for such a theory it can not account for several major extinction events, notably Australia and North America. Dogs did not arrive in Australia until approximately 35,000 years after the first humans arrived and approximately 30,000 years after the megafaunal extinction was complete and as such can not be implicated. In contrast numerous species including wolves, mammoths, camelids and horses had emigrated continually between Asia and North America over the past 100,000 years. For the disease hypothesis to be applicable in the case of the Americas it would require that the population remain immunologically naive despite this constant transmission of genetic and pathogenic material.[citation needed]

Combined factors

Some experts claim that various combinations of these factors are responsible for the extinctions. For example, while it is certain in the case of the moa and some other species that hunting was primarily responsible, other species may have been 'pushed over the edge' by hunting when they were already struggling due to imported diseases or climate change.

Megafauna and legend

Throughout history, humans wondered about the large, fossilized teeth and bones they discovered from time to time. During the classical age, the bones of giants were reputed to have been found. In medieval times, fossils were attributed to fantastic beasts such as dragons and unicorns. The Sioux have legends of Thunder Beasts, and the Aztec believed in giants. For other uses, see Fossil (disambiguation). ... Types of teeth Molars are used for grinding up foods Carnassials are used for slicing food. ... Grays Anatomy illustration of a human femur. ... Jack the Giant-Killer by Arthur Rackham. ... The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three ages: the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times. ... A legendary creature is a mythological or folkloric creature (often known as fabulous creatures in historical literature). ... It has been suggested that European dragon be merged into this article or section. ... The gentle and pensive maiden has the power to tame the unicorn, in this fresco in Palazzo Farnese, Rome, probably by Domenichino, ca 1602 For other uses, see Unicorn (disambiguation). ... The Sioux (IPA ) are a Native American and First Nations people. ... It has been suggested that Mexica be merged into this article or section. ...

With modern tools, paleontologists have reconstructed a world of beasts as amazing as the dragons and unicorns of folklore, including many larger versions of contemporary mammal, reptile and bird families. Scientists and historians, who long dismissed legends of monstrous creatures as merely myths, are beginning to look at these stories in a new light. The sites where the Greeks claimed to find the bones of giants today produce the bones of mammoths. Similar finds have been made in Central America. Since humans coexisted with these animals, some researchers wonder if the beasts might also be remembered in legend. For example the Australian Dreamtime legends refer to the megafaunal species. The mythical Rainbow serpent, source of creation and destruction, may be based on the Wonambi naracoortensis. The hairy manlike Bunyip may be the Diprotodon, filtered through legend. Clearly it is difficult to translate the poetic vocabulary of myth into the technical language of paleontology. In its fossil form, Wonambi naracoortensis does not need the legend to deserve the name "Rainbow Serpent". Its fossils have opalized and now they shimmer in all colors of the spectrum. A paleontologist carefully chips rock from a column of dinosaur vertebrae. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Subclasses & Infraclasses Subclass †Allotheria* Subclass Prototheria Subclass Theria Infraclass †Trituberculata Infraclass Metatheria Infraclass Eutheria Mammals (class Mammalia) are warm-blooded, vertebrate animals characterized by the production of milk in female mammary glands and by the presence of: hair, three middle ear bones used in hearing, and a neocortex region in... Subclasses Anapsida Diapsida Synonyms Reptilia Laurenti, 1768 Reptiles are tetrapods and amniotes, animals whose embryos are surrounded by an amniotic membrane, and members of the class Sauropsida. ... For other uses, see Bird (disambiguation). ... The word mythology (from the Greek μυολογία mythología, from mythologein to relate myths, from mythos, meaning a narrative, and logos, meaning speech or argument) literally means the (oral) retelling of myths – stories that a particular culture believes to be true and that use the supernatural to interpret natural events and... Representation of the Rainbow serpent, the Waugal The Dreamtime is the central, unifying theme in Australian Aboriginal mythology. ... It has been suggested that Charismatic megafauna be merged into this article or section. ... The Rainbow Serpent/Snake is a major mythological being for Aboriginal people across Australia, although the creation stories associated with it are best known from northern Australia. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ...

By region


Pleistocene fauna in the Americas included giant sloths, short faced bears, California tapirs, two species of now extinct llamas, peccaries, the American lion, giant condors, Miracinonyx (American "cheetahs", not true cheetahs), saber-toothed cats (like the scimitar cat), dire wolves, saiga, camelops, at least two species of bison, stag-moose, horses, mammoths and mastodons, and giant beavers. In contrast today the largest North American land mammal is the American Bison. South American megafauna comprised many of the same species as those of North America. Notable species not found in North America include the giant armadillos (Glyptodonts) and Toxodonta. The Pleistocene epoch (IPA: ) on the geologic timescale is the period from 1,808,000 to 11,550 years BP. The Pleistocene epoch had been intended to cover the worlds recent period of repeated glaciations. ... Fauna is a collective term for animal life. ... Families Rathymotheriidae Scelidotheriidae Mylodontidae Orophodontidae Megalonychidae Megatheriidae Ground sloths are extinct edentate (Order Xenarthra) mammals that are believed to be relatives of tree sloths and three-toed sloths. ... ... Species Tapirus bairdii Tapirus indicus Tapirus pinchaque Tapirus terrestris Tapirs (IPA:ˈteɪpər, pronounced as in taper, or IPA:təˈpɪər, pronounced as in tap-ear) are large browsing mammals, roughly pig-like in shape, with short, prehensile snouts. ... Binomial name Lama glama (Linnaeus, 1758) The Llama (Lama glama) is a large camelid native to South America. ... Species Tayassu Tayassu tajacu Tayassu pecari Catagonus Catagonus wagneri The peccaries (also known by its Spanish name, javelina or pecarí) are medium-sized mammals of the family Tayassuidae. ... Trinomial name Panthera leo atrox (Leidy, 1853) The American lion, also known as the North American or American cave lion, is an extinct feline known from fossils. ... Binomial name Aiolornis incredibilis (Howard, 1952) Synonyms Aiornis (a very common lapsus) Teratornis incredibilis Howard, 1952 Aiolornis incredibilis (formerly Teratornis incredibilis), the Incredible Teratorn, of the teratorn family, was the largest known North American flight-capable bird, with a wingspan of up to 16 to 17 feet (about 5 meters... Called the American cheetah, the genus Miracinonyx is a mystery. ... The fossilized skeleton of a sabre-toothed cat The terms saber-toothed cat and saber-toothed tiger describes numerous cat-like species that lived during various parts of the Cenozoic and evolved their saber-toothed characteristics entirely independently. ... Homotherium serum is a prehistoric cat more commonly known as the scimitar cat. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Binomial name Saiga tatarica (Linnaeus, 1766) The saiga, or Saiga tatarica, is a kind of gazelle that lives in central Asia. ... Species Camelops sulcatus Camelops huerfanensis Camelops kansanus Camelops traviswhitei Camelops hesternus Camelops minidokae Camelops is an extinct genus of camels that once roamed western North America, where it appeared about 45 million years ago. ... Species †B. antiquus B. bison B. bonasus †B. latifrons † †B. priscus Herd of bison grazing in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada. ... Binomial name Cervalces scotti The Stag-moose or Stag moose (Cervalces scotti) was a large moose-like deer of North America of the Pleistocene era. ... Evolution of the horse, showing reconstruction of the fossil species obtained from successive rock strata. ... This article is about the genus Mammuthus. ... Mastodons or Mastodonts (meaning nipple-teeth) are members of the extinct genus Mammut of the order Proboscidea and form the family Mammutidae; they resembled, but were distinct from, the woolly mammoth which belongs to the family Elephantidae. ... Binomial name Castoroides ohioensis The Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) was a huge species of rodent, with a length up to 2. ... North America North America is a continent[1] in the Earths northern hemisphere and (chiefly) western hemisphere. ... Binomial name (Linnaeus, 1758) Subspecies B. b. ... South America South America is a continent crossed by the equator, with most of its area in the Southern Hemisphere. ... Glyptodon (Greek for grooved or carved tooth) was a relative of the armadillo that lived during the Pleistocene Epoch. ... Toxodonts represent the largest examples of Notoungulate evolution. ...


Main article: Australian megafauna

Australia was characterized by marsupials, monotremes, crocodilians, testudines and monitors and numerous large flightless birds. Pleistocene Australia supported large carnivorous kangaroos, Diprotodon (a giant wombat), the Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo carnifex), the 3-meter flightless bird Dromornis, the 5-meter snake Wonambi and the giant lizard, the megalania. Australian megafauna is a term used to describe a number of comparatively large animal species in Australia. ... This article is about mammals. ... Families †Kollikodontidae Ornithorhynchidae Tachyglossidae †Steropodontidae Monotremes (monos, single + trema, hole; refers to the cloaca) are mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young like marsupials (Metatheria) and placental mammals (Eutheria). ... This article is about the animal. ... Species Diprotodon opatum Diprotodon minor Diprotodon loderi Diprotodon annextans Cast of a Diprotodon skeleton at Queensland Museum. ... Genera and Species Vombatus Vombatus ursinus Lasiorhinus Lasiorhinus latifrons Lasiorhinus krefftii †Rhizophascolomus †Phascolonus †Warendja †Ramasayia Wombats are Australian marsupials; they are short-legged, muscular quadrupeds, approximately one metre (3 feet) in length with a very short tail. ... Binomial name Thylacoleo carnifex (Owen, 1858) The Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) is an extinct species of carnivorous marsupial, (the largest Austrailan mammalian predator at that time) that lived in Australia from about 24 million years ago, during the late Oligocene, and became extinct about 50,000 years ago, during the... Genera Dromornis Barawertornis Bullockornis Ilbandornis Genyornis Dromornithidae were a family of large, flightless birds that lived in Australia until the end of the Pleistocene, but are now extinct. ... Infraorders and Families Alethinophidia - Nopcsa, 1923 Acrochordidae- Bonaparte, 1831 Aniliidae - Stejneger, 1907 Anomochilidae - Cundall, Wallach & Rossman, 1993 Atractaspididae - Günther, 1858 Boidae - Gray, 1825 Bolyeriidae - Hoffstetter, 1946 Colubridae - Oppel, 1811 Cylindrophiidae - Fitzinger, 1843 Elapidae - F. Boie, 1827 Loxocemidae - Cope, 1861 Pythonidae - Fitzinger, 1826 Tropidophiidae - Brongersma, 1951 Uropeltidae - Müller, 1832... Wonambi naracoortensis, part of the extinct megafauna of Australia, was a five to six metre long python, related distantly to the more commonly known carpet snake of Australia. ... For other uses, see Lizard (disambiguation). ... Binomial name (Richard Owen, 1859) Megalania is an extinct giant monitor lizard. ...


As with South America, elements of North American fauna could be found in Eurasia. Among the most famous Eurasian species are the Woolly Mammoth, Aurochs, Cave Lion, Cave Bears, Irish Elk and woolly rhinoceros. For other uses, see Eurasia (disambiguation). ... Binomial name Blumenbach, 1799 For the rock band, see Wooly Mammoth (band). ... Binomial name Subspecies Bos primigenius primigenius   (Bojanus, 1827) Bos primigenius namadicus   (Falconer, 1859) Bos primigenius mauretanicus   (Thomas, 1881) See Ur (rune) for the rune. ... Trinomial name Panthera leo spelaea Goldfuss, 1810 The cave lion, also known as the European or Eurasian cave lion, is an extinct feline known from fossils and a wide variety of prehistoric art. ... Binomial name Ursus spelaeus Rosenmüller, 1794 The Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus) was a species of bear which lived in Europe during the Pleistocene and became extinct at the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. ... Binomial name Megaloceros giganteus (Blumenbach, 1799) Megaloceros redirects here. ... Binomial name Coelodonta antiquitatis (Blumenbach, 1807) The Woolly Rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) is an extinct species of rhinoceros that lived during the Pleistocene epoch, but survived the last ice age. ...


Many islands had unique megafauna that went extinct on the arrival of humans. These included giant bird forms in New Zealand such as the moas and the Harpagornis (giant eagle); gorilla-sized lemurs; two species of hippopotamus in Madagascar; dwarf Stegodon from Island of Flores; giant birds, land turtles and crocodiles in New Caledonia; and giant geese and moa-nalo (giant ducks) in Hawaii. Genera Anomalopteryx (bush moa) Euryapteryx Megalapteryx (upland moa) Dinornis (giant moa) Emeus Pachyornis Moa were giant flightless birds native to New Zealand. ... Binomial name Harpagornis moorei Haast, 1872 Haasts Eagle (Harpagornis moorei), was a massive, extinct eagle that once lived on the South Island of New Zealand. ... Superfamilies and Families Cheirogaleoidea Cheirogaleidae Lemuroidea Lemuridae Lepilemuridae Indriidae Lemurs make up the infraorder Lemuriformes and are members of a class of primates known as prosimians . ... Binomial name Linnaeus, 1758[2] Range map[1] The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius), from the Greek ‘ιπποπόταμος (hippopotamos, hippos meaning horse and potamos meaning river), often shortened to hippo, is a large, mostly plant-eating African mammal, one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae (the other being the Pygmy... Stegodon is a genus of the extinct subfamily Stegodontinae of the order Proboscidea. ... Map of Flores Island Flores (Portuguese for flowers) is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, an island arc with an estimated area of 14,300 km² extending east from the Java island of Indonesia. ... Genera Australosuchus Baru Kambara Mekosuchus Pallimnarchus Quinkana Triphosuchus A Mekosuchine crocodiles are an extinct group of crocodiles from Australia and the South Pacific. ... Genera Chelychelynechen Thambetochen Ptaiochen The Moa-nalos are an extinct group of aberrant ducks that used to live on the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific. ... Official language(s) English, Hawaiian Capital Honolulu Largest city Honolulu Area  Ranked 43rd  - Total 10,931 sq mi (29,311 km²)  - Width n/a miles (n/a km)  - Length 1,522 miles (2,450 km)  - % water 41. ...


  1. ^ MacPhee, Ross D.E.; Preston Marx (1997). "The 40,000-year Plague: Humans, Hyperdisease, and First-Contact Extinctions". Natural Change and Human Impact in Madagascar: 169-217, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 

External links

  • Australian Megafauna

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One camp in the debate contends that a rapidly changing climate at the end of the last ice age did in the Pleistocene megafauna, as they are called, by transforming their habitat.
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The Pleistocene carnivores were limited to just three species: Thylacoleo carnifex, known as the 'Marsupial lion' or the 'giant killer possum'; the carnivorous lizard Megalania; and the Tasmanian 'tiger', Thylacines.
The megafauna that survived the initial impact of human hunters, finally died at the end of the Pleistocene when the Australia was undergoing the driest period it had.
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