Complacency with the Everyday Fantastical

I am fascinated by dinosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles, prehistoric squaliformes, prehistoric giant sea scorpions, and so forth like a lot of folk who grew up as kids in the 70s (or really…like a lot of kids). Seeing the bones or fossils of such creatures, the artist renditions, the movies that feature (gross exaggerations in many cases) such creatures all stir my imagination and just plain excite me to no end. They just seem so…<i>fantastic</i>…so legendary…so other worldly.

I was thinking about this yesterday and I came to the conclusion (and I’m betting I’m not alone in this) after a few brief searches that I have a real bias in regards to the “fantastical”. And I think that bias stems from familiarity.

Part of the amazement people have with dinosaurs stems from the fact that a lot of them were quite large. Many people (and I’ve been guilty of this misconception myself) get the impression that at some point (or even various points) the world was filled with animals far larger than anything we have today. In fact, a lot of people think that the vast majority of prehistoric animals were larger than anything we have today (which simply is not the case), mostly because of a few very popular and more well-known specimens (T-Rex, stegosaurus, Triceratops, brachiosaurus to name a few). What few take the time to consider is that not only do these animals not represent the size of the majority of other animals from those times, but in many cases those particular animals didn’t even exist <i>at the same time</i>. Still, we tend to think that animals in the past were larger, more fantastic than anything around today.


Here is a pic of the (likely) largest animal that has ever existed on this planet. Unless you actually get a chance to see one up close in the wild, particularly with something nearby for scale, you really can’t appreciate just how unbelievably large this animal is. It. Is. ENORMOUS. Here’s how it compares (at least based on an artist’s rendition) to some other “fantastical” animals:


Now one can debate about how accurate the artist got some of the sizes I suppose or whether the current research and inferences to actual size are accurate, but that isn’t all that relevant to the point. Even if some of the other animals are off by significant percentages, the Blue Whale still dwarfs every other specimen.

The point is, we DO live in an amazing time of fantastical creatures. And I hope we can learn not to take that for granted.

9 thoughts on “Complacency with the Everyday Fantastical

  1. We just had shark week again on the Discovery channel.

    T. rex certainly wasn’t anywhere near to being the largest dinosaur, but it’s one of the more “popular” dinosaurs–because it’s been the largest carnivore about which we’ve known (I think there are larger known from relatively sparse finds now). If they might eat you, and especially if they’re quite large and fierce, they tend to command human attention, as do sharks. Elephants might very well gore or trample you, so, even though they’re herbivores, they and mammoths tend to be interesting beyond both their sizes and peculiarities.

    Blue whales, well, you’ll never see them, and they’re pretty much about filtering plankton out of the water, breeding, giving birth, etc. Even scientifically, figuring out how whales can be so large isn’t a great mystery, while figuring out how land mammals achieved the sizes of large dinosaurs still remains in question (many think that “brontosaurus” looking thing couldn’t hold its neck vertically like in the picture, since blood wouldn’t get that high).

    Then too, I suspect that the fascination with largeness is more of a kid’s thing anyway. It’s not clear that anyone today would be very impressed with T. rex‘s movements, even if its size would still impress. Other than size, clearly many of today’s carnivores are quite impressive–think of the cats. Birds, and also bats, surely are some of the more impressive animals ever to exist.

    We probably do have some of the most amazing animals ever in existence now, but clearly land animals were more impressive size-wise even 20,000 years ago. Kind of too bad, since being scared of animals can be exciting. It seems to be a result of our evolution.

    Glen Davidson

  2. My money is on tintinnids. Single celled omnivorous organisms that can move, build structures to house themselves, have sex. I would be hard pressed to do all that.

  3. Hey, just about any organism is weird if you pay attention. You may have to watch for a while to find it, though. I just found out recently, for example, that warthogs are regularly groomed by banded mongooses. That’s two weird species right there.

  4. John,

    I just found out recently, for example, that warthogs are regularly groomed by banded mongooses. That’s two weird species right there.

    Here’s a video.

  5. I think people, kids, really just liked monsters. Comic books show monsters are very popular and dinos were just more of them. Kids don’t care about the small ones.
    Indeed size was error. i think artists made them too big. In fact I am always sadden by how small they are relative to what I thought.
    In know they say some extinct Rhinos in india were as big as almost the biggest dinos.
    Size was greater then because , probably like man, they lived longer and got healthier and bred bigger. The same with post flood mammals.
    I think the pre flood world was richer also.

    I don’t agree there is a dino division in nature anymore then a reptile or mammal one.
    The grouping on trivial traits is a error.
    A t rex was no more related to a stegosaurus or brotonsauruis then to a walrus.
    just like a turtle is no related to a snake.
    Dinos were unclean creatures and replaced by clean creatures after thye flood.

    There is always a possibility that the big marine creatures might yet be in the seas in some nook but in small size.

  6. Thanks to Glen for making me check whether krill can be considered zooplankton.

    Ants! They’re everywhere*. Just get down close to a column of wood ants on a mission. It”s a whole community in miniature!


  7. John Harshman,

    Not so weird if you see the advantage to warthogs (parasite removal) and the advantage to mongooses (food). The same symbiotic advantages result in reef cleaning stations.

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