America's Next Top Monster
October 22, 2012 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Have paleontologists found any circumstantial evidence for extinct predators that, perhaps due to lack of a complete skeleton, are merely conjecture at this point?

We've had the benefit of learning so much about creatures like dinosaurs due to paleontologists finding entire skeletons (or putting them together from scattered deposits) of each species, as well as fossils that help us understand what they ate and how they behaved.

But surely there must be evidence of species where scientists have only a single skull, or perhaps a giant claw, or a unique footprint to go on. Perhaps a predator along the lines of T-rex or a sabre-toothed cat, yet no one is 100% for sure what it might have looked like. *

Cryptozoology is fine, but I'm not interested in hominids so no Bigfoot or missing link please-- I want creatures that aren't related to us in any way. Also only interested in land-dwelling creatures, so no Loch Ness.

Please send me any links or articles you may have come across-- it's been surprisingly difficult to Google.

* I know that no one knows 100% what any fossil might have looked like while it was alive, especially re: colors and all that, but for the most part we'd know enough to recognize, say, a mastodon.
posted by egeanin to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's not exactly what you're looking for because enough fossils have been found that they're pretty well known, but you may be interested in the creodonts. Definitely check out Megistotherium...
posted by ChuraChura at 5:36 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try the keywords "trace fossil", as that should point you to a whole load of animals with few to no skeleton/body fossils.
posted by Jehan at 5:58 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I want creatures that aren't related to us in any way.

Technically there are no species on earth that meet this criterion, since all creatures are related to us. Maybe you could clarify how unrelated to humans is far enough removed for you to be interested?
posted by medusa at 6:20 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Good point Medusa. I just mean I'm not interested in hominids or primates.
posted by egeanin at 6:36 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer:
The first Quetzalcoatlus fossils were discovered in Texas, from the Maastrichtian Javelina Formation at Big Bend National Park (dated to around 68 million years ago) in 1971 by a geology graduate student from the University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences, Douglas A. Lawson. The specimen consisted of a partial wing (in pterosaurs composed of the forearms and elongated fourth finger), from an individual later estimated at over 10 m (33 ft) in wingspan.

They've since found much more, but originally the calculation of the size and the identification of the species was based on part of a wing bone, and not much else.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:28 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is actually a lot of dinosaurs. I mean, there are a lot of fossilized bits of T-rex, but as far as fairly complete skeletons that give a good idea of what it looked like there are only around 15 to 20. For example, the first T-rex fossil with a full arm was found in 1989--before that the distinctive size and posture of the arms was only a guess. And T-rex is a well known, well studied dinosaur.

But for really rare...

Spinosaurus might have been the largest carnivorous dinosaur, and we've got almost nothing.

And maybe not a carnivore, but Deinocheirus is all arms... really, that's all we've got, a pair of arms (and a few ribs and vertebrae, not well preserved). It would have been about the size of the largest T-rex.
posted by anaelith at 10:14 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even when we've got the skeleton we don't always put it together correctly
posted by MangyCarface at 7:06 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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