"The Mother of Horned Lizards"
Digital paint in Adobe Photoshop ©2018 Sean Closson
Sean Closson is a New England based illustrator/designer with over 10 years of professional experience working in a variety of fields. Some previous work experience includes:
-DVD Box Art for IFC Films
-Prop Design/VFX Concept Art/Storyboarding for .45 Calibur Films
-Concept Art/Game Art Asset Creation/Game Character Animation for Trout Brook Enterprises
-Blog writing/illustration for Socially Stunning
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Roughly 259.8 to 254.1 million years ago during the Late Permian era in what would eventually become South Africa, deserts sands blew across an arid landscape. Meanwhile, to escape the oppressive heat and avoid predation a tiny synapsid called Diictodon (the name meaning "two weasel toothed") used it's stubby legs, sharp claws, and peculiar tusks to dig into their earth, constructing relatively large (for their size) corkscrew-shaped burrows, designed to protect and give them an easy route up and down.
This behavior is similar to that of some modern mammals, but while these creatures share traits with modern mammals, they were part of a group that is currently referred to as stem-mammals, what used to be called mammal-like-reptiles, their bodies would have been a sort of mashup of reptilian and early mammalian traits. They were most likely warm-blooded, but probably laid eggs; fossil evidence suggests that they had relatively good hearing like modern mammals, but they possessed beaks probably used to crop the tough desert vegetation of their environment, most likely feeding on things like water-rich plan tubers.
While they didn't live in large colonies, evidence does suggest they lived in family units, hence why I have chosen to portray a pair of the little buggers.
Final for Anzu wyliei. Taking it's name from a feathered monster/god from Mesopotamian mythology called Anzû, a creature associated with storms and thunder, Anzu wyliei was less an ancient thunder bird and more an ancient super-turkey, at least in appearance.
Discovered in part of the famed Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota in 1998 by private fossil hunter Fred Nuss, the remains found were comprised of two separate partial specimens at the same site but not having apparently died at the same time. Both sets of remains were found approximately 330 feet apart with one of them being in a significantly lower layer of rock than the other. Another partial specimen was found by Scott Haire on his uncle's ranch in North Dakota. From the remains of these partially preserved specimens, scientists were able to assemble a relatively complete animal.
Researchers Emma Schrahner,Tyler Lyson, and Matthew Lamanna were working on the separate specimens in 2006 when they realized they were all working on the remains of the same animal and collaborated in with each other on a larger study.
Anzu is notable as it is one of only a few known examples of North American Oviraptorosaurs, and is by far the best preserved example currently known. Members of this group are more commonly known from Asia, like Oviraptor philoceratops and Gigantoraptor erlianensis. Like other Oviraptorosaurs, Anzu was very bird-like, possessing a toothless beak, a head crest, and likely possessed feathers for display and thermal regulation purposes.
Anzu wasn't the biggest creature in it's environment 66 million years ago, as it likely lived along-side huge herbivores like Triceratops and massive carnivores like T.rex, it weighed in at between 440 and 660 pounds and measured around 11 feet in length. It most likely had a varied diet, including plants and small mammals and reptiles.
Between 315 and 299 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period, the world was different place, The colder northern climate in what is now Northeastern North America and Scotland was then a tropical rain forest, its densely packed landscape of foliage dominated by huge tree-like ferns. Many branching river systems threaded their way through the balmy woodlands, their shores patrolled by massive amphibians, fulfilling a role not too dissimilar to that of modern day crocodiles. In the skies flew not birds or bats or even mighty Pterosaurs, but massive dragonflies the size of mid-sized hawks.
Among all these strange creatures was yet another extreme oddity, crawling along the forest floor a pair of parallel dotted lines in the mud behind it, roughly a foot and a half apart. The armored segments of its back rubbing against low-lying foliage as it slowly worked it's way through it's strange environment.
Arthropleaura was an ancient ancestor to modern millipedes. There were many species, some measuring less than a foot and others growing up to around 8 feet in length, making them some of the largest Arthropods (invertebrates with exoskeletons such as insects, spiders, scorpions, and trilobites) to have ever lived.
You may be wondering how these and other creepy crawlers ever grew to such sizes in the first place and why we don't have bugs that big now. To put it simply there are two major reasons, the first being that at the time there just weren't that many large predators on land, giving big guys like Arthropleura room to grow. The second reason is that the oxygen ratio in Earth's atmosphere was much higher back then. Arthropods have what is called a tracheal breathing system, instead of breathing like us with muscle powered lungs, creatures like A. armata distribute oxygen throughout their body through tubes called trachea, this system is very efficient because it doesn't require a lot of energy, but it is slow, meaning that with less oxygen there is in the atmosphere the less efficiency you would have and the more beneficial having a small body is.
Experiments have been done with insects by raising successive generations in high oxygen environments that show that with higher oxygen many arthropods will see a change in their upper growth limit, suggesting that creatures with tracheal systems can hypothetically grow as large as they need to for that environment. With 75% higher oxygen levels during the Carboniferous it's likely that Arthropleura and other arthropods grew so big because they could, taking full advantage of the lack of predators and the abundance of oxygen to fuel their growth.
Between 28.4 to 3.6 million years ago from the Late Oligocene to the Early Pliocene a strange looking genus of animals roamed the open planes of what would become Western Germany. These animals had horse-like heads, with small back limbs that were offset by front limbs roughly twice as long, these forelimbs were tipped with huge claws that curved inwards, requiring them to walk on their knuckles in the front.
Throughout the day it’s likely they would lumber from tree to tree, parking their massive bulk on their stout haunches using their claws to pull down branches and feast on the soft leaves of their favorite plants, using their large lips to crop their food and pull it in to be broken up by their small pebble-like teeth.
These traits are similar to those found in animals throughout the fossil record, animals like the dinosaur Therizinosaurus and the prehistoric Giant Ground Sloths of North and South America, all products of convergent evolution, where organisms that are not closely related independently develop similar traits by way of adapting to similar habitats and ecological niches. While the combination of their traits might make them look like giant sloth-monkey-horses, their closest living relatives are in fact horses and other horse relatives.