Saturday, October 13, 2012

Megalania

Megalania prisca
I am really, really excited about today's animal. I love Megafauna, I just find those giant Pleistocene animals to be hands-down amazing. We've talked about several different animals in the past, but most have been mammals-- we haven't talked about too many giant, Megafauna reptiles. To be honest though, there actually aren't a whole ton of reptiles in that group. Aside from Crocodiles, most post-Dinosaur reptiles remained quite small. Well, Megalania didn't!

You know Komodo Dragons? The largest lizards in the world? They reach full body and tail lengths of about 10ft, and at most weigh in around 150lbs. Megalania was a monitor lizard, just like the Komodo Dragon. Only double that length. More than double it. Speculation is that they could reach 23-26ft. The weight is incredible too. If Megalania had the same body/tail proportions as the Komodo, they could have weighed up to 4,000lbs!

Of course, we don't know their full size and weight for sure, as full fossilized skeletons have not been found. But even if the lower, 15ft length estimates are true, Megalania would still have the distinction of being the largest Lizard ever, and the largest venomous vertebrate in the world.

They lived from 2 million to 40,000 years ago in Australia, and hunted the massive marsupials and giant birds that were wandering about at the time, like Dromornis and Diprotodon. They were apex predators, and only really had competition from the substantially smaller (200lb) Marsupial Lion, Thylacoleo.

Megalania probably died off as a result of its prey disappearing. Diprotodon and other giant mammals went extinct (probably from a combination of human hunting, habitat loss, and climate change) and the massive Lizards no longer had enough food to sustain themselves.

There are some Cryptozoologists out there who think Megalania is still around, and unconfirmed reports of giant lizards have been surfacing for years in both Australia and New Guinea.

Status : Extinct for around 40,000 years
Location : Australia
Size : Length up to 23ft (7m), Weight up to 4,000lbs (1,800kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Varanidae -- Genus : Megalania -- Species : M. prisca

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