Thursday, February 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Entelodonts.

Wild pigs are badass. Look at ancient epics and there will likely be something with a boar. Norse gods frequently use boars as steeds; Odysseus got gored by a boar as a child; hell, ancient Greek warriors wore helmets made of boar tusks, and one of the reasons that the Jews avoid pork might be because the Romans loved using the boar as their mascot.

The kickass wild pig came from an even more kickass relative: the entelodonts. To put its awesomeness into perspective, entelodonts are also called "Hell Pigs" or "Terminator Pigs." Those sound like good names for motorcycle gangs.

Entelodonts have similar dentition to modern pigs, thus suggesting an omnivorous diet. They were primarily carnivorous, eating either fresh or long-dead meat, as well as plant matter if the need arose. (I'm not sure where They were the biggest, baddest creatures on North America, Eurasia, and Asia during the Miocene Period, a little-known era sandwiched between the dinosaurs and the advent of man.

If you think that modern swine are big, think again. The largest entelodont,  Daeodon shoshonensis, was 6.9 ft (2.1 meters) at the shoulder. D.shoshonensis was also 12 feet (3.6 meters) long, i.e. likely bigger than one's car. It had tusks and facial bumps like a warthog, and its jaws could easily crush bone. We do not know whether an entelodont would actually eat you or not, but staring into the mouth of one, we doubt you would care.


The larger entelodonts died out, in short, because they ran out of large prey. As time went on, other predators simply became more efficient hunters. The smaller, more scavenge-ready entelodonts lived. The result was the animal that goes into making bacon.


Exactly how close entelodonts were to pigs is still up in the air. Although the obvious evolutionary route judging by the hooves and skull is to swine, some scientists suggest whales and hippos as well. If it walks like a pig and eats like a pig...nah, we won't go there.

Tomorrow:  Chaaarrrlliieee...

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