Walking with Beasts

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9780563537632: Walking with Beasts

Since the dinosaurs died out over 65 million years ago our planet has been dominated by mammals. A succession of bizarre evolutionary specimens have come and gone -- from walking whales to sabre-toothed cats -- yet many of these magnificent creatures have never been visualized before. Now, for the first time, spectacular and unfamiliar animals are recreated and set in the context of their world. Walking with Prehistoric Beasts reveals the extraordinary ancestors of modern mammals and the arrival of man, bringing to life the roots of our heritage. Following on from the hugely-acclaimed Walking with Dinosuars, Walking with Prehistoric Beasts recreates the creatures and landscapes of post-dinosaur Earth; transporting us to the icy plains of the mammoth, dark forests stalked by giant carnivorous birds, and deserts dominated by 16 ton Indricotheres. From the tiny fruit-eating primate Apidium, to the powerful chalicotheres, whose curved claws forced them to walk on their knuckles, the lives of these little known creatures are vividly brought to life. Meet the bizarre hose-nosed Macrauchenia, and the Deodicurus, a giant armadillo with a spiked club for a tail; run with cat-sized horses and rhino-sized carnivorous pigs, hunt with the skull-crushing Andrewsarchus, and walk with the very first humans. Illustrated boxes describe the latest scientific evidence that led to the reconsturctions of these creatures, while character boxes provide information on behavior and habitats. The text is illustrated throughout with ground-breaking computer graphic images to offer a unique record of lost worlds never seen before and reveal many of the most spectacular periods in Earth's history. Also available, accompanying the Walking with Prehistoric Beasts TV series, are books for children, home videos, a DVD, and a CD of the soundtrack from the series.

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About the Author:

Tim Haines joined the Nature program at the BBC TV Natural History Unit in 1987 before moving to BBC TV Science. He has worked on many of the major BBC science series, and has produced a number of award-winning programs, including the Ice Mummy trilogy. He was the creator and Series Producer of Walking with Dinosaurs, and wrote the accompanying book. He is Executive Producer of Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. Daren Horley pursued a freelance career in traditional illustration before discovering the digital world. In 1997 he joined the compupter animation team at Framestore where he designed and painted the skins of the animals in Walking with Dinosuars. He is now Framstore's digital painting supervisor, working across a number of projects including Walking with Prehistoric Beasts.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1 New Dawn Our Earth 49 million years ago -- 15 million years since the mass extinction that saw the end the dinosaurs. All evidence of the environmental havoc left by this event has been erased from the Earth's surface. This is the Eocene or 'dawn of new times' The Earth is now a forest planet -- a lush green paradise covered in tropical and sub-tropical jungle. Sea levels are high, as are global temperatures -- you could swim in the Arctic Sea. Magnolias and fig trees thrive in Alaska, elm and beech forests in Siberia, and in Germany lianas wrap themselves round mighty swamp cypresses. The spread of flowering plants that started in the time of the dinosaurs has continued and the tropical forests are now full of fruit, flowers and scents and the insects that evolved to exploit the flowers continue to thrive. Among the larger vertebrates, however, there is a hangover from the age of the dinosaurs. No large predator has evolved to replace the giant marine reptiles and on land mammals have not been quick to occupy the vacant niches. Instead it is crocodiles that hunt along the waterways and huge predatory birds that comb the forests for prey. But mammals are better prepared for the future. They have stayed small and have begun to diversify. Among a range of fur balls on the heavily forested islands that make up Eocene Europe, there are the first primates, rodents, hoofed plant-eaters, carnivores and some have even taken to the air -- the bats. 5 a.m.: The Quiet Time The Eocene jungle is very still just before sunrise. Around a dark lake the forest stacks up in dense green layers washed with an opaque pre-dawn light. A few large bats flap silently between the upper branches, making their way back to their roosts. The hum from insects seems muted and the occasional haunting screech from a primate in the canopy only emphasizes the silence. Suddenly ripples spread across the surface of the lake and waves appear from nowhere. There is a low rumble, which sends birds squawking from their roosts and mammals scuttling through the undergrowth. A series of huge bubbles erupts from the lake, producing a small, sickly white cloud of gas. Beneath it the water stains red. Then it is over -- a short earthquake that leaves the denizens of the forest jumpy but unharmed. Tremors are common here because the lake sits on a large island in the middle of the western Tethys Sea. To the north lies the giant Eurasian continent and to the south Africa is slowly drifting north, squeezing the Tethys in between and causing volcanic activity across the area. The lake itself is the reason for the bubbles and gas. This is its dark secret. It is about 2 kilometres across and more than 200 metres deep in places. At the very bottom is a dense layer of cold water trapped under a thick layer of warmer water. The cold water is stagnant and full of dissolved carbon dioxide. Every so often gas levels build up to such an extent that, when a tremor mixes the two layers, it can trigger the release of clouds of suffocating carbon dioxide which drift towards the shore. This all makes the lake a very dangerous neighbour. On this morning the cloud released is small, but its effects are deadly. A bat swoops low over the water, plucking a caddis fly out of the air, but as it turns it heads into the cloud of gas. After a few metres its delicate wings crumple and it drops with a small plop into the water. As the cloud reaches the reed and lily beds on the eastern shore it is already beginning to disperse. A palaeotis bird sitting on her nest opens her beak in a silent scream as she is suddenly robbed of oxygen. She shakes her head vigorously and staggers to her feet. Before the cloud can finish the job, it is carried on into the fern and palm stands beyond on the morning breeze. The palaeotis puffs her dark brown plumage and settles back on her nest a little confused. The cloud finally disperses as the ground rises. Here, where the understorey thins beneath huge laurel trees, the leaf litter has been scraped into a huge mound and topped with sticks and branches. Sitting on top of this, making a strange throaty whistle as she sleeps, is a gastornis. She is the largest bird on Earth, a carnivorous giant about 2 metres tall, with a stout, muscular body. She cannot fly, but instead ambushes her prey amongst the dense undergrowth. In the dim light the shape of her huge body is hard to make out under her speckled black feathers, but there is no mistaking her livid red features and pale beak. The beak, in particular, is an awesome sight -- a thick hatchet-shaped weapon that can snap the backbone of a small horse in one bite. She is queen of the jungle. The gastornis was undisturbed by the tremor and oblivious to the gas cloud. She is a day-time hunter and slumbers through the night, stirring only at dawn. All around her in the forest other diurnal creatures sleep on, unaware of the close brush some have had with death. 6 a.m.: A Dawn Start Sunrise and, because of rain in the night, the forest begins to steam. High in the canopy a thick mist hangs between the trees, tinged orange by the dawn light. Lower down, the branches and leaves splinter the light into rays that pierce through the dark forest floor. A little distance from the lake a huge strangler fig stands lashed to the ground by its web of branches. Deep inside the laurel tree it originally grew on has long since been killed. This makes a perfect shelter for a mother leptictidium and her two babies. Her nest is raised well off the ground, dry and the entrance protected by an impossible maze of fig roots. Inside the family are preparing for their morning hunt. Leptictidium are creatures of habit and the day always starts with a frantic washing session. The mother's long pink nose twitches as she works methodically over her soft brown fur. As she shifts to an inspection of her long hopping feet her youngsters play with her naked tail. After one of them nips it, she stops grooming and scrambles out into the moist morning air. The youngsters follow obediently. Leptictidium are common in this forest and several different species can be seen bounding through the undergrowth after insects and lizards. This mother belongs to the largest species, measuring almost a metre from her nose to the tip of her tail. She pauses for a moment to sniff for danger and then bounces off through the fig roots. On its branch an owl puffs up its long ribbon-like plumage and watches them go. All leptictidium have a hunting trail that they follow through the undergrowth. Every morning and every evening they work their way round the trail catching food and clearing any obstacle that falls across their path. Should a predator ambush them these trails become their escape routes. Today they will be used well. The three little mammals move swiftly through the steamy forest floor bouncing on their long back legs. The trail takes them down towards the lake and on to a small silt beach. The mother stops for a moment and then snaps at a large stag beetle on a log. She holds the wriggling insect firmly in her hands, while her sharp teeth make short work of it. The two youngsters gather round to taste the food from her lips. It is just two weeks since they were born and they are already being weaned. They must learn quickly how to hunt for themselves. Their progress slows as they near the lake ,with the mother finding more insects on which to feed. The trail also takes them along the top of the beach and, in this more exposed environment, the mother stops frequently to check for danger. There is a quiet in the air and her nose and whiskers quiver nervously. It turns out her caution is justified. A brief flash of red in a nearby tea bush is followed the snap of a branch and the female gastornis bursts from her hiding place. In three strides she is on her prey, snatching at them with resounding cracks of her huge beak. But the leptictidium started moving the moment the mother saw the flash of red and, bounding at full pelt, they just escape the lethal beak. With astonishing speed they head back up their trail through the fig roots and into the safety of their nest. The gastornis is left standing and, after a couple more strides, she loses interest in the hunt. She is too big to be a pursuit predator here; she relies more on ambush amid the dense forest. The gastornis turns and struts down to the lake shore. With a low mist swirling round her clawed feet, her black speckled plumage and her menacing red-stained face, her distinguished ancestry is clear. She is a return to the age of carnivorous therapod dinosaurs, giant killers that once stalked the land on two legs. But in this new age she is a creature out of time. There are many other predators around, such as walking crocodiles and small but powerful creodont mammals. The gastornis is the biggest of all of them, but in contrast to the time of the dinosaurs there are no giant herbivores for her to feast on. She has to work hard for her living. The giant lets out a long rasping call that echoes round the still dark lake and harks back to a lost time. 9 a.m.: End of the First Shift By mid morning the mist is long gone and the combination of high sun and dense greenery makes the air stiflingly humid. The forest here is typical of the tropical jungle that swathes most of this warm planet. The flowering plants that only started their evolution towards the end of the time of the dinosaurs are now dominant. Although a few ferns and cypresses hold on, the canopy is full of laurel, walnut, beeche palm and dogwood. Climbers such as grapevines honeysuckles and moonseeds wrap round these trees, while below magnolias, mulberries, tea and citrus bushes fight for light. The variety on display is bewildering, but the things that would really confuse a time-travelling dinosaur are the colours and the smells. The jungle is full of flowers and fruits, and in the morning heat their scent is overpowering. The green and brown dinosaur world of ferns and conifer needles has gone for ever. This seismic change in the flora is reflected in the type of animals that thrive here. The canopy is abuzz with wasps and bees. Among the branches and on the ground small mammals and birds grow fat on a diet of large fruit and soft flowers -- gone is most of the rough, resin-filled fare on which dinosaur plant eaters had to survive. This is a new Eden, a colorful scented world full of small animals -- completely different from the age of the dinosaurs. Under the canopy the darkness is broken by patches of magnesium-white light, where the sun breaks through to the forest floor. A timid propalaeotherium horse tugs at a moonseed illuminated by one such ray of light. He is keen to draw it into the shadows where his dark dappled back will provide the secuirty of camouflage. A scuffle at the edge of the clearing sends the propalaeotherium scampering off into the camellias. The leptictidium mother bounces into the clearing and stops to wrestle with a lizard she has just caught. The two youngsters catch up and tug at the unfortunate reptile. Suddenly the lizard's brightly coloured tail pops off and starts to thrash about among the leaves. The youngsters leap back, pause and then pursue the tail with a series of hunting moves they have seen their mother perform. She meanwhile holds tightly onto the lizard's body and, after a firm bite to the back of the neck, it goes limp in her hands. She then heads off again for the nest. The youngsters follow, abandoning the tail to flick around by itself in the clearing. It is the end of the leptictidiums' morning hunt and the family disappear under the strangler fig for their midday sleep. Inside the nest the mother finishes eating the lizard -- although the youngsters will learn to hunt from her, she will never kill prey for them. They continue to try to suckle, but she is rapidly losing patience. Their time within her nest is running out -- they will soon have to learn to be independent For now, however, they all curl up and go to sleep. Down by the lake, swifts dart across the surface, striking at the columns of mating insects. A python slips through the water lilies, heading for shore to digest a baby crocodile it has just caught. Nearby a much larger wake also heads for the shore. Just before it reaches the bank there is a splash and the top of a long brown head pops out of the water. At a glance it could be mistaken for a large crocodile, since there are plenty of those in the lake. But a closer look reveals that it is covered in a layer of fur and that there are whiskers bristling round its dark nose. Its eyes scan the bank and then, as it draws itself out onto the silt, it becomes clear that this extraordinary beast is nothing like a crocodile. Thick short hair covers its entire body and large webbed feet make it move awkwardly on land. This is a male ambulocetus, part of a bizarre group of mammals that have evolved to take advantage of similar niche to crocodiles, hunting animals along the water's edge. They evolved on the Eurasian coast to the east of this forest and it is very rare to see one on the European islands However, the jungle round the lake is full of bite-sized prey, so the ambulocetus should not be short of food. This male is about 4 metres long, not quite fully grown. He slides into position, half in and half out of the water, in a patch of sedge that disguises his body. Then he settles down and waits. The ambulocetus's hunting method requires a lot of patience. They have developed a special jaw and ear apparatus that is very sensitive to vibration. By resting their head on the ground they can sense the approach of prey and time their attack perfectly. Unfortunately, this does mean they have to wait for their victims to come to them. In the oppressive heat of mid-morning the ambulocetus starts his unique vigil. A huge flying ant lands on his forehead and explores the drying fur round his neck, but he does not move. After about half an hour a propalaeotherium appears from the undergrowth. She stands motionless in the shadows, her ears twitching. Then she nervously picks her way down to the lake to drink. Every few sips she looks around, alert to the slightest moves that would betray a predator. She is drinking just 2 metres from the stationary ambulocetus, but that is still too far for his purposes. Only when a large splash amongst the lilies sends the little horse jumping back does the predator make his move. With a flurry of dust and leaves, a huge fang-filled mouth slashes sideways. But the horse was never near enough and, leaping high into the air, she disappears off into the jungle. The ambulocetus decides to abandon his hunting, as the daytime temperatures are getting too high. He turns and slips into the water. After pushing off from the shore, a few sweeps of his webbed feet bring him to the deep, dark water that occupies most of the lake. Then his body and short tail fall into a series of slow, up-and-down undulations that propel him through the water without the use of his limbs. This movement is very distinctive of these new semi-aquatic mammals and will one day be the trademark of their descendants, the whales. Below the ambulocetus, a crocodile moves past, its tail beating from side to side. The two do not bother each other. 12 noon: The Swarming In the direct sunlight the temperature continues to climb into the blistering 40s but under the shade of the canopy it peaks in the lower 30s. In their strangler-fig nest the leptictidium no longer lie bundled together: instead they are stretched out, breathing fast to keep cool. Beneath the laurel with its massive buttressed roots, the gastornis has returned to her nest. In the centre lies a single large blue-green egg which she has been incubating for weeks. Today for the first time it is making a noise. With her fearsome beak she gently turns it, revealing a small hole worked by the chick as it starts...

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TIM HAINES
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