One day we become a feast for worms then a snack for moles. Souls may soar to promised lands but flesh finds destiny in the dirt. Throughout Earth’s history geologists record 5 mass extinctions, destroying half or more of all existing species. Oh sure, everybody prattles on about the Cretaceous–Paleogene obliteration 65 million years ago. Most witlings know a humongous asteroid blasted the Yucatan Peninsula, laying waste to 75% of all living species and massacring the mighty thunder lizard. Still, clavens score props at pubs clarifying that the Permian mass extinction did far greater damage.
The Great Dying loomed around 284 million years ago when geologic catastrophes spanning 2 million years tormented terra firma and shriveled seas across super-continent Pangea. 96% of all animal classifications went extinct. On the positive side, life on Earth has evolved from that surviving 4% of species. Humans balking at genetic cousins hanging with primordial apes can shake Homo sapiens’ family tree to dislodge shared ancestors rooting from pelycosaurs. This swamp-dwelling class of reptilian quadrupeds survived Permian extinction to birth therapsid descendants that eventually emerged as early mammals.
Primates rule! And we have the bipedal locomotion, opposable thumbs and brainpan to prove it. We own this planet — at least until overpopulation, rampant agriculture, poisonous pollution, Soylent Green shortages, and global warming blaze towards our impending expiration date. For now, let’s ditch the apocalyptic buzzkill with a smug look backward at some other mind-blowing beasts that failed to adapt to climate change.
Weighing in at a whopping 1,000 pounds, the Gigantopithecus flourished for 6 million years to settle among tropical forests of Southeast Asia as the biggest primate that ever lived. This gigantic simian towered up to 10 feet in height, had the mass of 3 to 4 modern gorillas, and bulked up through a steady diet of bamboo and some seasonal fruits. The big ape ruled the trees till 100,000 years ago, when climate changes wiped out their food supplies, although some scientists make a case for overhunting by early humans.
2. Arthropleura armata:
Arthropleura armata, or giant centipedes, grew up to 10 feet in length and hold title as Earth’s largest land invertebrate. 30 pairs of legs propelled 30 armored plates very quickly around trees and over logs. A biosphere rich in oxygen with few predators allowed this bug to bulge. Fossil records show they died out about 300 million years ago when the Permian period dropped oxygen levels and wilted tropical habitats into deserts.
Entelodonts or "Terminator Pigs" terrorized forests and plains throughout North America, Europe, and Asia as ferocious omnivores. Their reign as major predators across American badlands lasted more than 20 million years. Entelodonts devoured fresh kills, carrion, plants, and tubers. These mini-bulldozers weighed 900 pounds, had shoulders like a bison, and used powerful jaws to sever prey. When global cooling transformed tropical forests to open grasslands, these Hell Pigs failed to adapt longer legs to catch faster savannah herbivores, and eventually starved to death 5 million years ago.
The Brontosaurus vanished from textbooks over the last three decades because this beastie never actually existed. In 1879, fame-hungry Yale paleontologist, O.C. Marsh, carelessly misidentified fossil evidence of a juvenile Apatosaurus skull as a new species. He coined the creature "Brontosaurus," then matched this head bone to the skeleton of an adult Apatosaurus. Books, movies, and cartoons featured bonehead Brontos munching Jurassic vegetation until the 1970s, when scientists conclusively identified the young Apatosaurus skull atop the ossified frame of its adult counterpart. The Brontosaurus spawned from Marsh’s ambition to win the "bone wars," but finally died of exposure to cold scientific scrutiny.
Neanderthals spread through Europe around 300,000 B.C., survived several ice ages, and disappeared about 10,000 years ago. An Oxford University study recently proposed that Neanderthal extinction resulted from larger eyes essential to spotting prey over long distances at higher latitudes. With vision as a priority, cerebral structures adapted for sight and motor skills to the neglect of complex thinking that would have allowed invention of warmer clothes, better tools, and stronger social groups.
Another study cites anthropological evidence that modern humans butchered Neanderthals for dinner, and probably wore their teeth as necklaces. Neanderthal knuckleheads had plenty of brawn, but lacked the cognitive power to take on organized cannibals or adjust to warmer climes that demanded innovative hunting techniques.
Enjoy our limited engagement. Savor a steak. Grab a beer. Check out some nature. Humans are blazing trails in a mad rush for Earth’s 6th mass extinction, exhausting forests and fisheries while poisoning air, soil, and water. Greenhouse gasses strip ozone, launch dangerous weather patterns, and drive global climate change into impending planetary desertification. Our species doesn't breed the collective will to reverse worldwide destruction, let alone overpopulation.
Of course I'd prefer a Star Trek destiny where U.S.S. Enterprise champions galactic detente with strange species. I’d chillax with Kirk and crew, exploring Class M planets rich in sweet air, lush fauna and room to roam. Oh well, we don’t call it science fiction for nothin’. Tragically, our next century will fester on a far more perilous and ugly orb. When it comes to perpetuating our own kind, Earthlings haven't got a snowball's chance in Yucatan.