Here are ten extinct giant animals that used to live in North America – along with my notes on which ones would have been fun to hunt.
1. North American horses. European settlers introduced horses when they landed in the New World. But little did they know the thunderous sound of ancient horses’ hooves once covered the continent.
Horses, not so much. They may have presented a challenge – sharp-eyed, fast open country animals – but probably not so good eating.
2. Glyptodon. Glyptodon looked like a supersize version of its distant relative, the armadillo. Like its cousin, Glyptodon protected itself with a shell made of bony plates.
The armored, 1-ton creature likely traveled to North America from South America via the Isthmus of Panama, a land bridge that connects the two Americas, MacPhee told Live Science.
Again, not so much. Too slow, too cumbersome. No fair chase here – not even a fair stroll.
3. Mastodon. Mastodons (Mammut) entered North America about 15 million years ago, traveling over the Bering Strait land bridge, long before their relative, the mammoth, according to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Canada.
Now we’re talking. A big, hairy animal, very likely smarter than your average Glyptodon and quite possibly dangerous. A big rifle would be in order – I’m thinking .375 H&H or larger.
4. Mammoths. Mammoths (Mammuthus) traveled to North America about 1.7 million to 1.2 million years ago, according to the San Diego Zoo. Although there are some anatomical differences between mammoths and mastodons, both are members of the proboscidean family.
5. Short-faced bear. Despite its name, this enormous bear didn’t actually have a short face. But in comparison to its long arms and legs, it looked like it did, MacPhee said. He compared it to a grizzly bear on stilts, as its limbs were at least one-third longer than those of a modern grizzly.
Oh hell yeah. Sign me up. A bear that’s bigger than a grizzly, and not only faster but a long-distance runner instead of a sprinter. Picture a modern grizzly, inflated by one-half and given the legs of a wolf. Speaking of which:
6. Dire wolf. Dire-wolf bones are plentiful in California’s La Brea Tar Pits and Wyoming’s Natural Trap Cave. These skeletons show that dire wolves (Canis dirus) were about 25 percent heavier than modern gray wolves (Canis lupus), weighing between 130 and 150 lbs. (59 to 68 kg), according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Not as exciting as the short-faced bear, perhaps, but given that this was a pack animal, and you’d likely be facing several of them… A good repeating shotgun stoked with buckshot, maybe?
7. American cheetah. The American cheetah stood a little taller than the modern cheetah, with a shoulder height of about 2.75 feet (0.85 meters) and a weight of about 156 lbs. (70 kg). However, the American cheetah probably wasn’t as fast: It had slightly shorter legs, which likely made it a better climber than a runner, according to the zoo.
Interesting. Any big cat could be a challenge – intelligent, fast, great senses, very likely dangerous. An exciting hunt here.
8. Ground sloth. When President Thomas Jefferson learned about a strange claw fossil found in Ohio, he asked explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to search for giant lions during their western trek to the Pacific. The claw, however, didn’t belong to a lion. It was part of Megalonyx, an extinct ground sloth, MacPhee said.
A sloth? No thanks. As with the Glyptodon, no fair chase on something that slow. They were tough, though – maybe a hunt with a spear?
9. Giant beaver. The giant beaver (Castoroides) is mostly known from its fossils in the Great Lakes region, which is “perhaps no surprise for a beaver,” MacPhee said. But other fossil finds show the giant lived as far south as South Carolina and in the American Northeast.
Not really a hunt. In my youth I trapped beaver, along with muskrat, raccoon and various other furbearers. You’d need a bigger trap for this monster.
10. Camels. Camels that once roamed North America are called Camelops, Latin for “yesterday’s camel.” However, Camelops is more closely related to llamas than to today’s camels, the zoo reported.
As with horses: Probably decent from the fair chase standpoint, but eating – well, I’ve eaten camel once, and have no desire to repeat the experience.
Since it’s unlikely we’ll be able to clone any of these beasts any time soon, it appears I’ll have to content myself with deer and elk.