Woolly mammoths and saber-tooth cats were megafauna – particularly large animals. In fact, the whole geological epoch of Pleistocene, when these guys were around, is largely associated with a time when megafauna roamed the planet, looking a lot like the species we know today, but larger. In the Late Pleistocene, however, they went extinct in troves, and humans are still trying to figure out what exactly happened.
While most of the prototypical megafauna are not wandering about any more, we do still have large animals. Elephants and giraffes fit that description intuitively. However, things are not that simple – as usual.
According to one definition, megafauna are “the component of the fauna of a region or period that comprises the larger terrestrial animals. ” Easy. However, depending on the source of the definition, megafauna can also simply include any animal weighing more than 45 kilograms.
If we follow that rule, here are some examples of animals we don’t normally think of as megafauna:
- red kangaroos
- saltwater crocodiles
- leatherback turtles
- green anacondas
- … and humans.
While it’s useful to define boundaries in order to classify things, I find the idea of the 45-kg-rule somewhat arbitrary and a bit disappointing. Surely a mammoth would not fit in the same category as a human. I mean, those things were actually impressive.