Evolution is a gamble where you lay not only your life, but the existence of your entire species on the table. What's more, it's an absolute crapshoot -- there are any number of pitfalls, dead ends and natural disasters that can boot you out of the casino at any given moment. But far from hating the game, we love evolution, fickle bitch that she is. Because, as humans, we pretty much rode that dumb luck to the top of the world. One meteor here, or a jacked up gene there, and we might well have been challenged or even replaced as the dominant species by one of these silly bastards ...
#5. Lizard People
Lizard people, also known as reptilian humanoids or "the government," depending on your recommended daily pill intake, feature prominently in fantasy and science fiction, where they either serve as some beefcake's sword fodder or rule the world with an iron claw.
"'Hu-Man Creatures Living in Sewers?' Wow, they'll print any frogshit these days."
If a certain little extinction-level event hadn't turned all the dinosaurs into Exxon executives' paychecks, there's a pretty decent chance that you would be reading this article with your creepy lizard eyes, fondling your crotch with your tail instead of your left hand. (Yes, we know.)
There are a whole lot of different theories on dinosaur evolution, but by far the funniest one, and therefore the one we choose to focus on, is courtesy of paleontologist Dale Russell, and it looks like this:
His name is the lizard equivalent of "Gary."
That is what Troodons, a species of dinosaur, might have ended up evolving into, had they not been space-punched into oblivion. Troodons lived in what would eventually become Canada, and were well on their way to dominating the world before disaster struck. They were two-legged and had a brain proportionally six times larger than that of any other dinosaur. What's more, they had not one but two opposable fingers on each hand, making them the seven-minute abs of the digital arms race.
Obviously, if evolution had decided to put these guys in the driver's seat instead of us, civilization would look quite different. Dinosaur humanoids (or dinosauroids) wouldn't require too much dental care, what with having toothless beaks. Their internal genitalia would render tall buildings, Hummers and other phallic symbols meaningless. What's more, they wouldn't have mammary glands and would feed their young by regurgitating food from their mouths, bird style.
And there but for the grace of the Science-God go we: stuck eating vomit in a world without boobs.
#4. Hobbits (Seriously)
Many, many years ago, a small tribe of people lived on Flores Island. They were a bit different from their primitive cousins, in that they rarely grew over 3 feet tall and had long, nimble arms. Their most distinctive trait was their huge, fuzzy feet.
Sound familiar? The scientist who strolled along a few millenniums later certainly thought so when he found their bones and exclaimed "Holy shit, hobbits!"
That's a true story, by the way. We're not just being goofy, confusing fantasy and history to make it sound more badass -- there really was a race of hobbit humans, and that's what the scientists are calling them.
"One guy wanted to call them Ewoks, but we clubbed him to death with his own thesis."
These human hobbits were neither mutations nor the product of a nutrition deficiency. They were a unique and previously undiscovered hominid species who just happened to be almost identical to Tolkien's most famous creation. Their surroundings reflected their unique nature, too: Upon closer inspection, all of Flores turned out to be a ridiculous fantasy island that contained remnants of rats the size of golden retrievers, komodo dragons so big they didn't really need the "komodo" part and awesome miniature elephant things called Stegodons that the hobbits hunted for food (and certainly must have ridden around on, because wouldn't that have been hilarious?). Of course, such a harsh living environment also ensured that the hobbits themselves weren't of the cuddly Elijah Wood subspecies, but rather had a foot firmly planted in Gollum territory:
"Screw the ring, do you have any conditioner?"
There they lived, on their crazy island full of monsters -- hunting, using sophisticated tools and maintaining the kind of complex civilization that shouldn't even have been possible with their brain size. They were doing alright, too, having outlasted Neanderthals by over 12,000 years. At that point, it looked like humans and hobbits were going to be in direct competition to carry forward the proud name of "Homo."
And then the volcano erupted.
The geology of the area indicates that the real-life hobbits never had to take a continent-wide hike to Mount Doom, because their volcano made house calls -- it wiped out Homo floresiensis along with all of Fantasy Island's wildlife in one fell swoop.
Legends say that a sister island may have survived ...
#3. Neanderthal Supersoldiers
Neanderthals are probably what you think of when we say the word "caveman" (well, either that or "Captain"). Their species was so similar to ours, in fact, that they gleefully boned with our ancestors and left a bunch of their DNA all up in our genetic business. Which is actually kind of curious: Neanderthals were physically stronger than us and their brain capacity even rivaled ours. What's more, they matured way the hell faster than Homo sapiens, reaching full adulthood at around 15.
"I swear, officer, she said she was 12."
So, not only were they stronger than us and potentially as smart as us, but they had to deal with way less puberty, and were therefore ready to start clubbin' heads and takin' names far sooner than we were. If survival of the fittest was a game of Punch-Out!! we were Glass Joe to their obnoxious spinning Indian guy.
But it didn't quite go that way. In fact, we killed them. Just straight up murdered their fast-developing, super strong, intelligent-beast-man asses, no problem. See, Neanderthals were actually royally screwed by that seemingly bitchin' early maturity thing. High school keg parties notwithstanding, being of legal drinking age at 15 actually has little evolutionary value -- in fact, it's more of a drawback. As we've pointed out before, taking your time to mature isn't a disadvantage; it's a survival trait. Our ancestors chose the sightseeing route to adulthood, and that gave them more time to develop a society. This, in turn, honed their social and organizational skills. Meanwhile, Neanderthals dead-sprinted into humpin' age without really paying attention to what was going on around them. They were plenty strong, smart and fast -- it was just their bad luck that they lived next door to the organized and bloodthirsty abomination that was us.