My friend Brendan and I were talking last night about megafauna. (And flora, by extension, but let’s face it, dinosaurs are way cooler than giant ferns.) For some reason Brendan and I talk about prehistoric animals a lot. I don’t know if it’s a mutual fascination, a secret taxonomy fetish, or what. It’s just really intriguing to me that all these creatures like woolly mammoths and siberian tigers used to wander the earth and now they don’t. Life would be so much more exciting with megafauna. (By the way…you know how sometimes they find them frozen in places like Siberia? Is there anyone who can hook me up with…a mammoth steak? Because I really want to try mammoth as part of my ongoing quest to eat at least one of everything.)
Apparently “megafauna” actually refers to any animal which weighs more than 500-1000kg, depending on the authority, meaning that any animal larger than, say, a bull could be considered “megafauna.” This includes things like giraffes, elephants, and blue whales. Remind me to tell my rhinoceros story sometime. And also giant squid. Giant squid are megafauna. In fact, most modern megafauna are found in the ocean. I’d be interested to know why this is. I suspect it’s because human predation isn’t as widespread in the ocean as it is on land, thanks to limitations on the human body. But living in the water also may carry some physiological advantages.
But when I say “megafauna,” I mean the giant creatures which used to roam the earth. You must remember them from the Land Before Time. Things like mammoths and giant dinosaurs. Things which are now extinct. (Although the majority of modern “megafauna” are on threatened and endangered lists as well.) Imagine giant beavers, for example. Why have a capybara when you can have a giant beaver?
Prehistoric creatures in general fascinate me. (For example, did you know that Australia once had marsupials to fill almost every evolutionary niche? There were marsupial tigers! Wolves! Now that’s exciting.) But megafauna…they’re prehistoric and gigantic, and that’s a double whammy of awesomeness.
They also have a couple things going against them, in modern society. It took a long time for megafauna to mature, for a start. They tended to live languid, slow lives because moving requires a huge energy expenditure when one is that large. They had slow population growth rates, and few natural predators. They may have required oxygen at greater concentrations (see where the megaflora come in, now?) then currently exist today. It is suspected that changes in temperature caused the ultimate die off of the megafauna, although human hunting did not help the situation. (It is interesting to note that human progress across the earth can also be used to make a map charting the die-off of megafauna.)
So, assuming that megafauna of true prehistoric awesome size were capable of existing given current environmental conditions, imagine for a moment how cool it would be if dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
Does anyone remember Dinotopia? A utopian novel involving dinosaurs? That’s totally what life would be like. We would all have dinosaurs to ride around, instead of pouring them into our cars. Our garages would be huge. Our streets would be wide and lined with majestic leafy trees. When you had an argument with a neighbor, you could send your gentle apatosaurus over to trample their carrots.
We could finally have something to actually terrorize children with. You don’t fuck with the old man who lives next to the library when he’s got a pet pterosaur, man. I have a feeling we’d be raising much quieter, politer children.
I would totally have a herd of velociraptors.
Would people have to apply for a license to own megafauna, as they do with exotic animals now? Would we attempt to limit the population of megafauna? How does one go about dealing with dinosaur regulations? Would there be protections on megafauna populations? Where, exactly, would the dinosaurs go? Canada? Given the theories on megafauna, it’s clear that humans started out evolving with the giant animals. But how could we integrate them into our society, if the dinosaur population suddenly exploded from zero to…some other number? One dinosaur, after all, takes up a lot of space and resources. I also have a feeling that the life goals of humans and dinosaurs may conflict.
I imagine that if dinosaurs roamed the earth, the human population would be smaller, which is something I can get behind. Perhaps this is the ultimate solution to the population crisis–bringing on the dinosaurs.
But, also, our world would just be cooler, because let’s face it–dinosaurs kick ass.