Tag Archives: Biology

Gigantopithecus

6 Apr

From as long ago as 9 million years, all the way up to only 100,000 years ago, an enormous genus of ape roamed around the areas now known as China, India and Vietnam. It’s also possible that they co-existed with early humans. The first species of this genus to be discovered was Gigantopithecus blacki, and was actually found by chance. In 1935, archaeologist Ralph von Koenigswald found some fossilised teeth in a Chinese medicine shop, and realized that they were from an unknown species. The teeth were usually ground up and used as part of traditional medicines.

While a full skeleton for the giant ape hasn’t yet been found, archaeologists can infer their size from dental remains that have been found. So, exactly how big were these apes? Scientists believe that the males could grow up to 10 feet tall, and weighed as much as 1,200 lb. Females were quite a lot smaller, due to sexual dimorphism. Like many other apes, they were most likely quadrupeds (this means that they moved around on four legs).

Cast of G. blacki's lower mandible. Credit: Mark A. Wilson (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Wilson44691)

Cast of G. blacki’s lower mandible. Credit: Mark A. Wilson (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Wilson44691)

This is what the gigantopithecus may have looked like. Source: http://img102.fansshare.com/pic131/w/non-celebrity/369/13006_gigantopithecus_std.jpg?rnd=2700

This is what the gigantopithecus may have looked like. Source: http://img102.fansshare.com/pic131/w/non-celebrity/369/13006_gigantopithecus_std.jpg?rnd=2700

G. blacki is thought to have lived in Southeast Asia, and dental analysis shows that it probably lived on bamboo and other plants. Furthermore, since the initial discovery of G. blacki, two more extinct gigantopithecus species have been found; Gigantopithecus giganteus and Gigantopithecus bilaspurensis. G. bilaspurensis lived in India, and G. giganteus appears to have lived in northern India and China. Despite its name, G. giganteus was actually about half the size of G. blacki.

Size comparison of gigantopithecus and human. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Discott

Size comparison of gigantopithecus and human. Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Discott

Some conspiracy theorists believe that the gigantopithecus apes may still exist today, and are the reason why legends of Bigfoot, yetis and the like exist throughout the world. Unfortunately for proponents of this theory, there is no evidence that this is true. In fact, humans may have actually led to the decline and later extinction of the species, by using valuable resources that the apes needed to survive.

To read more on the subject, visit: http://www.uiowa.edu/~bioanth/giganto.html

The Island of Snakes

5 Apr

This is one island that I won’t be visiting anytime soon; Ilha de Queimada Grande, otherwise known as Snake Island, is probably one of the scariest places in the world. The uninhabited island is just off the coast of Brazil, and is home to a species of snake known as the Golden Lancehead Viper.

Location of the island just off the coast of Brazil

Location of the island just off the coast of Brazil

The Golden Lancehead, or Borthrops insularis, is not found anywhere else in the world, but this island is teeming with them. Some say that there is one snake per square meter, and others claim an even higher figure. The island is 430,000 square meters, so that’s at least 430,000 snakes.

They aren’t small snakes, either. The average length of one of these snakes is nearly 30  inches  (75 cm), with some reaching a maximum of 46  inches (116 cm). To make matters worse, they are one of the most venomous snake species on Earth. It’s really no wonder that the island isn’t used for anything.

The species might actually be at risk for extinction, which is sad for them (and snake-lovers). They are considered to be a critically endangered species, and they face other problems due to interbreeding. Interbreeding has caused a high rate of intersex baby snakes to be born, and these intersex snakes are almost always sterile.

As I said earlier, I would definitely never want to set foot on this island. Unfortunately for crazy thrill-seekers who do want to visit it, the Brazilian Navy has expressly forbidden anyone, except the occasional scientist, from going to the island. This really isn’t surprising, considering that wherever you set foot on this island, there is always a snake (or several) close by.

To read more, visit http://webspinners.com/coloherp/cb-news/archive/nature/Paradise.php or

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/snake-island-ilha-de-queimada-grande

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