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In terrestrial zoology, megafauna (Ancient Greek megas "large" + New Latin fauna "animal") are "giant", "very large" or "large" animals. Their original and most common definition is 100 lb, often rounded in the metric system to 40 or 45 kg. This thus includes many species not popularly thought of as overly large, such as white-tailed deer and red kangaroo.

In practice the most common usage encountered in academic and popular writing describes land animals roughly larger than a human which are not (solely) domesticated. The term is especially associated with the Pleistocene megafauna — the giant and very large land animals considered archetypical of the last ice age such as mammoths. It is also commonly used for the largest extant wild land animals, especially elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, moose, condors, etc.

Other common uses are for giant aquatic species, especially whales, any larger wild or domesticated land animals such as larger antelope and cattle, and dinosaurs and other extinct giant reptilians.

The term is also sometimes applied to animals (usually extinct) of great size relative to a more common or surviving type of the animal, for example the dragonflies of the Carboniferous age.

Ecological strategy of megafauna

Megafauna — in the sense of the largest mammals and birds — are generally K-strategist, with great longevity, slow population growth rates, low death rates, and few or no natural predators capable of killing adults. These characteristics, although not exclusive to such megafauna, make them highly vulnerable to human over-exploitation.

Megafaunal mass extinctions

A well-known mass extinction of megafauna, the Pleistocene–Holocene extinction event, occurred at the end of the last ice age glacial period, and wiped out many giant ice age animals, such as woolly mammoths, in the Americas and northern Eurasia. However, this extinction pulse near the end of the Pleistocene was just one of a series of megafaunal extinction pulses that have occurred during the last 50,000 years over much of the Earth's surface, with Africa and southern Asia being largely spared. Outside of Eurasia, these megafaunal extinctions followed a distinctive landmass-by-landmass pattern that closely parallels the spread of humans into previously uninhabited regions of the world, and which shows no correlation with climate. Australia was struck first around 50,000 years ago, followed by the Solomon Islandsmarker 30,000 years ago, the Americas 13,000 years ago, Cyprus 9000 years ago, the Antilles 6000 years ago, New Caledonia 3000 years ago, Madagascarmarker 2000 years ago, New Zealandmarker 800 years ago, the Mascarenesmarker 400 years ago, and the Commander Islandsmarker 250 years ago. Actually, nearly all of the world's isolated islands could furnish examples of extinctions occurring shortly after the arrival of Homo sapiens. (Most of these islands, such as the Hawaiian Islands, never had terrestrial megafauna, so their extinct fauna were smaller.)

A number of other mass extinction occurred earlier in Earth's geologic history, in which some or all of the megafauna of the time also died out. Famously, in the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event the dinosaurs and most other giant reptilians were eliminated. However, the earlier mass extinctions were more global and not so selective for megafauna; i.e., many species of other types, including plants, marine invertebrates and plankton, went extinct along with the dinosaurs. Thus, the earlier events must have been caused by more generalized types of disturbances to the biosphere.

Examples of megafauna

The following are some of the animals often considered as megafauna (in the sense of the "large animal" definition):


Extinct megafauna

Image:Giantscorpion cp 185155.jpg | Jaekelopterus was a variety of sea scorpion.Image:Dunkleosteus BW.jpg | Dunkleosteus was a gigantic, long prehistoric fish.Image:Dimetr eryopsDB.jpg | Dimetrodon and Eryops from the early Permian of North America.Image:Leedsi&Liopl DB.jpg | Liopleurodon ferox (right) harassing Leedsichthys problematicus.Image:Macronaria scrubbed enh.jpg | Several macronarian sauropods; from left to right Camarasaurus, Brachiosaurus, Giraffatitan, and Euhelopus.Image:Tyrannosaurus BW.jpg | Life restoration of Tyrannosaurus rex.Image:Argentavis magnificens.JPG | The teratorn Argentavis had an wingspan.Image:Megalodon scale1.png | Carcharocles megalodon with the great white shark and a human for scale.Image:Titanis07DB.jpg | Titanis walleri, the only known North American terror bird.Image:Pleistocene SA.jpg | Megatherium and two glyptodonts from the Pleistocene of South America.Image:PantheraLeoAtrox1.jpg | The American lion became extinct about 10,000 years ago.Image:Giant Haasts eagle attacking New Zealand moa.jpg| Haast's Eagle is the largest eagle known to have existed.Image:"Benjamin".jpg| The thylacine was the largest carnivorous marsupial of modern times.

Living megafauna

Image:Eunectes murinus2.jpg | The green anaconda can weigh up to .Image:Elephant.pair.750pix.jpg | African elephants are the largest living land animals.Image:BlueWhaleWithCalf.jpg | The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived.Image:Tiger in the snow at the Detroit Zoo March 2008 pic 2.jpg | Tigers are the biggest living cats.Image:Strauss m Tanzania.jpg| The Ostrich is the heaviest living bird.Image:Orca.jpg| The orca is the largest dolphin.Image:Tragelaphus strepsiceros 2.jpg| The giant eland is the world's largest antelope.Image:Bristol.zoo.western.lowland.gorilla.arp.jpg| The gorilla is the largest primate on the planet.Image:SaltwaterCrocodile('Maximo').jpg| The saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile.Image:Mola-mola-Lisboa-20051020.jpg | Fish of the family Molidae are the largest bony fish.Image:Polar Bear 2004-11-15.jpg| Polar bears are the largest semi-aquatic carnivores.Image:Ostafrikanisches Spitzmaulnashorn.JPG| The black rhinoceros grows up to 14 feet long.Image:Content sow.jpg| The grizzly bear is the largest woodland carnivore.Image:Lates niloticus 2.jpg| The Nile perch is one of the largest freshwater fish.

See also


  1. Defense of the Earth. Past consequences of climate change: Evolutionary history of the mammals.
  2. Corlett, R. T. (2006). Megafaunal extinctions in tropical Asia. Tropinet 17 (3): 1–3.
  3. Ice Age Animals. Illinois State Museum

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