Posts Tagged ‘Australian megafauna’

The Real Turok Son of Stone

February 24, 2013

Baby boomers enjoyed reading comic books about dinosaurs when we were kids, and Turok Son of Stone served as the ultimate fulfullment of our fetish for this genre.  Turok Son of Stone featured 2 Indian brothers trapped in a lost valley where dinosaurs still roamed.  It was a flimsy excuse to show Indians with bows and arrows battling dinosaurs and on occasion cave men.  The brothers always got close to escaping the valley but their hopes were dashed at the end of each issue, usually with an avalanche of rocks.  The title must have been quite successful–the series ran from 1956-1982 and was later revived for over 4 years in the mid-1990s.  The premise, of course, is scientifically untenable.  Dinosaurs became extinct millions of years before hominids evolved, and there were no lost valleys where they could have survived.  The writers of the mid-1990’s revival series realized the unlikely science behind this and at least made the explanation that the valley existed in a repeating time loop.  In reality humans never battled dinosaurs.  However, Australian aborigines did encounter and apparently conquer very large reptiles when they colonized that island continent.

Cover illustration from the once long-running and popular Turok Son of Stone comic book.

The Australian aborigine was the real Turok Son of Stone.  They conquered and drove into extinction 3 species of monstrous reptiles.  The man on the left has a boomerang; the man on the right has an atlatl or throwing spear.  They could kill anything with a dart from a throwing spear.

Australian aborigines proved that a man with a projectile weapon can kill any animal that ever lived on earth.  The aborigines first arrived on Australia ~40,000 years ago.  They likely came from India and New Guinea and were familiar with such dangerous animals as large monitor lizards, salt water crocodiles, and sharks.  Tribal memories must have included lions, tigers, leopards, bears, and wolves as well.  When they started exploring the strange land of Australia they were prepared to battle all manner of beast.  They slew megalania (Varanus priscus), a terrifying real life dragon that reached lengths of 25 feet and had a venomous bite.  The Komodo dragon is megalania’s closest living relative, and they seldom grow to more than 6 feet long.  They have been known to kill people.  Komodo dragons also sport a venomous bite fatal to buffalo, hogs, and deer.  Imagine how dangerous a 25 foot long monitor lizard would have been.  I’m sure aborigines suffered a steady casualty rate before hunting megalania into extinction. 

Some aborigines also probably lost family members to Quinkana fortirostrum, a land crocodile that grew to about 20 feet long.  Unlike modern crocodiles, it was equipped with long legs and chased its prey down.  It had knife-like teeth built for tearing prey apart.  The quinkana is named for the aborigine legend of spirits that hide in crevices but come out at night to feast on human fat.  It’s more likely real life quinkanas attacked people during the day when the cold-blooded monsters were more active.  Neither megalanias (also known as giant ripper lizards) nor quinkanas had any fear of man, explaining why they became extinct.  For millions of years neither species had to fear any animal other than larger members of their own species.  Quinkana fortirostrum evolved 24 million years ago, though similar species of land crocodiles are even older than that and co-existed with the dinosaurs.  Quinkanas were a successful predator for 24 million years, yet, they disappeared at the exact time man first appears in the fossil record of Australia.  That’s just too much coincidence for any alternative explanation of extinction. They just lost too many conflicts with men who also probably dug up their eggs every chance they got.  Megalania existed for at least 6 million years, but it too became extinct when man arrived on the scene.  A 3rd large reptile, an 18 foot long snake known as Wonambi naracoortensis, also succombed to man.

Top: Size comparison between Megalania and modern day soldier.  Bottom: Quinkana, the extinct land crocodile.  Australian aborigines rapidly wiped out both animals, neither of which probably ever learned to fear man.  Animals that don’t fear man generally become extinct.  Imagine the bravery required to hunt these with a throwing spear.

Aborigines also drove most of Australia’s large mammals and birds into extinction.  Stirton’s thunderbird, a 1000 pound moa, and Genyornis newtoni, a 90 pound flightless chicken, both disappeared shortly after man colonized the continent.  The “duck of doom” is only known from a single 6 foot long femur.  Men must have found a giant flightless duck to be easy pickings.  The goliath kangaroo, a 400 pounder, couldn’t withstand the onslaught of man, and neither could Diprotodon australis,  a 4000 pound wombat.  Zygmaturas trilobus was an aquatic marsupial that occupied a niche similar to hippos and capybaras.  Men must have found them easy to ambush at water holes.  A tapir-like marsupial, Palorchocter azael, didn’t fare any better.  Men dug up, killed, and roasted too many Megalibigullia camgayis, an 150 pound echidna.  Man dethroned the marsupial lion, Thylacinus cynocephalox, as king of the beasts here. Propleopus oscellans, a large carnivorous kangaroo, was just as unsuccessful in its competition with man.

Illustration of an extinct species of carnivorous kangaroo.  It had wolf -like canines and ran rather than hopped.

Thylacines and a large subspecies Tasmanian devil survived the initial extinction event.  The former survived on Australia until about 3000 years ago, and the latter lasted until approximately 300 years ago.  These smaller predators could survive on the smaller game left after man wiped out the slower breeding megafauna, but competition with dingos, which were introduced to the continent about 5000 years ago, likely led to their demise.

Many people are under the false impression that marsupials survived on Australia for so long because they were isolated from placental mammals, and never had to compete with them until man arrived. This is not true.  Both placental and marsupial mammals originally co-existed on Australia, Eurasia, and the Americas.  Placental mammals did outcompete marsupials on 4 of these 5 continents, but marsupials did win Australia.