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28 October 2008, JellyBean @ 1:23 am

by Samantha Gilmartin

A list of the five most terrifying creatures to have ever walked/crawled/swam the earth.
In the pleasantly safe and sterile modern world it is easy to assume that monsters only exist in the movies. We think that terrifying beasties are just the products of overactive Hollywood imaginations.

Giant sharks, enormous predatory insects, these are the things nightmares are made of. They appear in our nightmares for good reason, once upon a time they stalked, scuttled, swam and buzzed around the planet.


Fossil records show that millions of years ago earth was home to some real monsters far worse that those you see in the movies. Here’s a run down of five of the most terrifying creatures that have ever called our planet home. By the end of this list you’ll be glad that the spider in your bathtub didn’t bring his long-lost cousin with him.

1) Andrewsarchus

An unusual creature, Andrewsarchus was a powerfully-built wolf-like mammal that lived roughly 40 million years ago during the Eocene period. It walked on all fours and had hooves like a modern sheep or cow, making it the embodiment of “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Almost everything we know about this ancient creature comes from a single three foot long skull found in Mongolia. The creature had powerful jaws, perhaps the strongest ever evolved in a land mammal and strong teeth which have led palaeontologists to suggest that Andrewsarchus was capable of biting straight through bone. Presuming Andrewsarchus was proportioned similarly to other members of the same group, it would have stood over six feet tall at the shoulder and was over 12 feet long not including the tail.

Due to the fact only one fossilised Andrewsarchus skull has ever been found it is impossible to determine if it was even fully grown, if the remains belonged to a weak or juvenile animal the species could have been far larger.

It has been suggested that Andrewsarchus was perhaps a scavenger rather than a hunter, using its massive size to scare off the competition thus allowing it to feed on carrion undisturbed. The coastal locations of most Andrewsarchus fossils strengthen this theory but until more fossil specimens are discovered nothing can be said for certain.

2) Titanis

Standing over eight feet tall with a massive, powerful beak, Titanis was a predatory flightless bird that lived three million years ago during the Pliocene period. The fossil record suggests that they may have looked and moved like giant, muscular emus. Their wings were useless for flight but may have ended in small sharp claws which were presumably used in hunting. Titanis fossils have been found in America suggesting these monstrous birds lived in what is now Florida.

Titanis have been nicknamed “terror birds” by researchers and palaeontologists despite the fact that there has been some debate as to the species carnivorous tendencies. It has been suggested that the large beaks of Titanis may have been used to crack giant prehistoric nuts or perhaps even in mating displays.

This image of Titanis as a massive but largely benign nutcracker is unlikely when one examines its closest living relative, the Seriema. Modern Seriema use their large beaks to smash prey to the floor repeatedly until bones are broken and life is extinguished. It seems likely given the similarities between these modern birds and the extinct “terror birds” that both hunted in similar ways.

3) Meganeura

The largest flying insect to have ever appeared on earth, Meganeura is a bugphobes worst nightmare. This mammoth insect resembled the modern dragonfly with large eyes, powerful mouthparts and a 2.5 foot wingspan. Fossils have been discovered in France, America and Britain suggesting that Meganeura was widespread during its time on earth, roughly 300 million years ago.

Meganeura lived during the oxygen-rich Carboniferous period, it was the rich atmosphere of this period which allowed Meganeura to reach such massive proportions. As oxygen levels decreased on earth the Meganeura and other similar massive bugs were the first to disappear. Thankfully this means that these gargantuan dragonflies could never survive in our modern atmosphere.

4) Arthropleura

Arthropleura, like Meganeura, lived in the Carboniferous period. It was a relative of modern centipedes and millipedes which reached sizes of up to 5 feet in length. Widely considered to be the largest land invertebrate of all time, Arthropleura was a heavily armoured, multi-limbed creepy crawly with few, if any predators.

A complete Arthropleura fossil is yet to be discovered so there is massive debate surrounding this formidable insect’s jaws and diet. Most assume that it would have had a large, powerful mandible similar to those of modern centipedes. Recently discovered fossils have shown pollen in the gut of Arthropleura which suggests that they ate plant matter. Some have suggested that smaller specimens, perhaps the babies, were vegetarian and once they grew to a sufficient size they became omnivorous.

The fossilised footprints of Arthropleura have been found around the world with some of the best examples in Scotland. The prints suggest the enormous bug moved quickly and that it was capable of stretching it’s body to gain a greater stride, perhaps resulting in a burst of speed.

5) Megalodon

Perhaps the most famous of our list, Megalodon was a giant shark that died out during the Pleistocene period, around 1.5 million years ago. A true apex predator, Megalodon ruled the seas for roughly sixteen million years. It is the largest shark to have ever existed on earth. Megalodon’s closest living relative could be the modern great white shark. However, some researchers claim the the similarities between the two species are due to convergent evolution rather than any family connection.

As with all sharks, the skeleton of Megalodon was composed of cartilage rather than bone and so a complete fossil has never been found and is unlikely to exist. Fossil teeth and a few vertebrae are all that remain of this ancient scourge of the seas. Using what little remains of Megalodon scientists have attempted to guess what the giant shark may have looked like.

Jaw reconstructions and comparison to the modern great white shark have led researchers to suggest that Megalodon could have reached sizes in excess of 55 feet. That’s almost the length of two London buses end to end. Such a massive predator needed equally gigantic prey. Megalodon primarily hunted early whales and other large ocean creatures. Fossils of whale carcasses that have suffered Megalodon attacks suggest that the killer shark attacked the fins to disable its prey and then moved in for the final kill.

Well there we have it, five of the most spine-chilling monsters to have ever existed. That moth in the bedroom doesn’t seem too bad now does it?

by Samantha Gilmartin

Author Resource:

Samantha is a London theatre fanatic and regular West End theatregoer. She writes and researches some of the biggest London shows you can view examples of her work here Oliver and Show and Stay.

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