As we've pointed out before, a lot of the animals we see today used to be much larger in olden times. Like, a LOT larger. Also, a lot meaner, hungrier, and ripped-straight-from-our-nightmares-ier. So, in case you've been sleeping well these past few months, here's a brand-new set of prehistoric colossi to help you stare at the ceiling all night, being thankful that mankind showed up so late in the evolutionary parade. Otherwise you could unexpectedly run into ...
5Megapiranha paranensis, the Giant Piranha
Modern piranhas are scary enough in their own right. If you have no sense of self-preservation and decide to swim in one of their rivers, these bastards will teach you never to do so again, at the not-unreasonable cost of toes, genitals, or whatever other chunks of flesh look appetizing. But not all that many people have actually died at the hands of the tiny, modern version of these ravenous machines.
That's why the idea of taking these little balls of hate and turning them into humongous slimy chainsaws with bites powerful enough to crush bone is a popular trope among direct-to-video horror movies. Which is funny, because nature beat us to the punch a good long time ago. Behold:
We can't be the only ones who insert the sound of angels singing when we see a big scary mouth open like that.
That is Megapiranha, which lived 8 to 10 million years ago in the rivers of South America and grew to a meter in length, four times that of the cow skeletonizers of today. And if it ever finds out we gave it a lazy-ass name like "megapiranha," it'll find a way to revive itself and tear us to shreds in one or two bites.
Pretty sure this diagram is mistaken on the whole "swimming with man-eaters" thing.
See, not only was Megapiranha huge, but its bite was among the strongest in history, with a force-to-body-weight ratio unmatched by even the mightiest dinosaur. Whereas modern-day piranhas peak at a bite force of 70 pounds, a Megapiranha is estimated to have bitten with a force of 1,000 pounds.
To further illustrate how insane that is, a T. rex could deliver a bite force of just over 3,000 pounds, roughly three times that of a Megapiranha. Only thing is, the T. rex weighed seven tons. The Megapiranha? Twenty pounds, maybe 25 if it started slacking off at the gym. If it were as big as T. rex, it probably could've chewed up an Apatosaurus and swallowed it whole, while barely breaking a sweat.
And here's our friend's bite when compared to other feared creatures of the sea:
There were 47 more entries, but the Megapiranha ate them all.
See how no other fish comes close? Precisely. It's a damn good thing humans hadn't been invented yet, because we probably wouldn't have lasted two years before evolving into steaming chunks of piranha shit.
4Giant Birds of Prey
Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images
One thing we rarely have to worry about today is giant birds of prey swooping down and flying away with our children. That's mainly because there are no Haast's eagles around. But that is a very recent development.
This guy is building one from memory.
The average Haast's eagle had a 10-foot wingspan. Its gigantic claws would impale, rip, and tear anything it deemed delicious; that something was usually quite big and meaty, like the moa bird. If the below picture doesn't look impressive to you, try to keep in mind that the moa it's about to munch on are 10 to 12 feet tall:
Via John Megahan
My God, it's already eaten their arms off!
What else did it eat? Apparently, us. The Haast's eagle definitely lived among humans, up until 1400 or so. So yes, a mere 600 years ago, these things roamed the skies, snatching our babies, and maybe even our mommies and daddies. Here's a comparison between the Haast's talons and a modern eagle, if you want to imagine them clamping down on your neck:
PLOS via Wikipedia
Damn, it's more than 10 cinnamon long!
New Zealand folk tales speak in hushed whispers of giant man-eating birds ruling the land, and these stories have all but been proven to be about Haast's eagle. It was only after the Maori tribe hunted its primary food source -- the moa -- to extinction that Haast's eagle met its own demise.
Of course, if you keep rewinding the clock by millions of years, you find murderous birds getting bigger, and stranger. You could, for instance, step out of your time machine and find yourself running from Gastornis:
Or finding a way to kill it, because just one hot wing from that bastard would feed a whole Super Bowl party.
That ridiculous dinosaur/dodo hybrid stood over 6 feet tall, could in no way fly with those stupid little stump wings, and had a keen taste for meat.
Giant birds like these were among the Earth's top predators after the extinction of the dinosaurs, gulping down our poor mammalian ancestors in the forests of Europe some 50 million years ago. If they'd tried bringing one of these bastards back to life in Jurassic Park, the audience would have been laughing their asses off, right up until this Gastornis severed Jeff Goldblum's head with one effortless snap of its beak.
OK, we'd still be laughing, but in a horrified sort of way.