Evolution is lazy. It takes thousands of years to produce one minor change, and even then it will do the absolute bare minimum. Point in case, Odontochelys semitestacea. About 220 million years ago, turtles were essentially just drifting hunks of meat for predators. Finally, evolution stepped in and decided that it was only fair to give the turtles some kind of natural defense. The result? A hard belly, and that's it.
Odontochelys semitestacea was usually snapped up by whatever sea monsters lived in deep waters. Because the predators attacked from the bottom, the turtles that developed shells on their stomachs survived longer. The only problem was that as soon as anything figured out how to attack from the top or even bothered to flip one of these turtles around, suddenly it was the equivalent of putting a meal on a plate. If anything, the evolutionary advancement of Odontochelys semitestacea just made for fancier predators.
"At least my horrible death was convenient."
Still, the fossil of Odontochelys semitestacea has helped paleontologists determine how turtles actually evolved their full shells. What they originally assumed was a thicker skin that evolved into a hard casing now looks more like extensions of the backbone and ribs that grew together over time to make a shell. But regardless of how important the discovery of this species might be, it still looks just like a naked turtle to us. One that's gone skinny dipping in some ancient pool, with its shell up on the shore.
Even though Mother Nature usually fusses with the attributes of each type of animal separately, she isn't above mashing two totally different species together just to see what happens. Sometimes the outcome is amazing, combining all the best characteristics of both, and other times the final product is Odobenocetops, aka the failed mix tape of the ocean.
During the Pliocene period about 3.5 million years ago, Odobenocetops was essentially a whale with the head of a walrus, except one tusk was much longer than the other and its face was locked in a perpetual Eeyore sulk. The longer tusk could grow to be about 3 feet long, but it was completely useless for defending Odobenocetops against predators because it was too brittle. In fact, no one really knows why it had such ridiculously mismatched and ineffectual fangs.
"I may look retarded, but I get better reception than your cellphone."
We can't overstate how harmless and unprepared these walrus/whales were for the prehistoric world they lived in. To give you some context, they were around during the same era as the megalodon shark, an apex predator roughly the size of a blue whale, with five rows of teeth stretched across a 7-foot jaw. While it was technically carnivorous, Odobenocetops only ate clams and worms that it sucked up from the sand, and presumably it complained all the time about how nobody ever remembered to invite it to their birthday parties. That sad pout on its face almost makes it look like Odobenocetops knew just how ridiculous it was.
It seems unfair that while there are a handful of wildly different prehistoric versions of most species, the biggest variation among human ancestors was the slope of their foreheads. Sadly, evolution never experimented much with giving primates hooves or poisonous skin, so compared to nearly every other animal, our physical variances seem pretty lame.
Or at least they did until the 1930s, when a paleoanthropologist discovered the teeth of a primate that was over 10 feet tall and weighed around 1,200 pounds. For some context, a male silverback gorilla weighs about 400 pounds. Gigantopithecus was bigger than a polar bear and looked suspiciously like Bigfoot if he was making a considerable effort not to be shot during buck-hunting season.
And if you're friendly enough to him, he'll protect your rebel ass on Hoth.
The giant ape lived in the jungles of Southeast Asia, where it survived exclusively on plants and fruits, judging by the shape of its teeth. As horrifying as it might be to meet one of these monsters in the forest, there's a pretty good chance that our ancestors did occasionally. Gigantopithecus and early man were alive at the same time and lived in the same areas. In fact, humanity might be at least partially responsible for their extinction. Yeah, some things never change.
Agneeth has recently decided that he really needs to start being consistent with his guitar practice schedule, so you can see his progress here.
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