Write or die

About the Author

Vincent Bergamo has no absolutely no publication history or accolades to his name, but has nevertheless taken on the multi-novel project of creating the Nyamaland fantasy series. Vincent lives in Vermont with his dad and his golden retriever, Otis. Contact me here.

Welcome to the "write or die" blog. This is the place where I make big announcements about books, complain about life and share the research I do for said books. Research is very important for my books, because, they are a bizarre combination of fantasy and science. Anyways here is the first bit of research.

The Last Scaly Kings:

How Reptiles briefly dominated Mammals after the dinosaurs.

For over one hundred fifty million years, mammals had to scurry around the stomping feet of the dinosaurs that ruled them. When a burning mountain, the size of mount Everest, fell from the sky, non-avian dinosaurs were completely eliminated, and mammals could finally rise out of the shadows. From there mammals could radiate into cats, dogs, deer, whales, humans and many other animals. This, however, is the sophomoric version of events. In reality, when the the dust of the meteorite settled mammals would spend the next ten million years living in a world that was inhospitably hot. A world that, briefly favored reptiles who were also rising out of the shadows of the dinosaurs. These reptiles evolved hooves, legs underneath their bodies, and other mammalian characteristics so that they could hold the niches now held by mammals. Today Paleontologist and climatologist are carefully, studying these strange, ancient, reptiles, because their fossils are the remnants of Earth's warmer past and for this reason they prophisze our warming future. (ABC News, Backer 53, Gugliotta 4, Langston 293)

In modern times, mammals clearly dominate many evolutionary niches. Mammals like lions, and bears are the dominate predators of the land in their respective environments, while mammalian herbivores like reindeer, and wilderbeast roam the planes. Buffalo and Elephants grow to sizes that no reptile today comes close to reaching, while whales hold their own in oceans where reptiles barely have a presence. Reptiles do still have their places, for crocodiles and turtles still lurk in the swamps, while serpents and lizards swim in the sand or crawl hidden in the grass. Indeed, reptile species still outnumber mammal species, but so long as warm-blooded animals exist anything with scales must evolve methods of laying low or perish (Backer 52.)

Cold-blooded animals become lethargic in the cold, and this leaves them vulnerable to attack from warm-blooded predators on a cool day or early in the morning. By the same token cold-blooded predators can be preoccupied with sunning themselves or cooling themselves, while warm-blooded prey items can concentrate fully on avoiding predation. For this reason mammals can out compete reptiles in many areas (Backer 53).

The only way that reptiles can survive in a world ruled by warm bloods is by hiding, and using under handed tactics. Lurking in water and grass, using venom, hiding in shells are just a few methods that reptiles use to pray on and protect themselves from mammals. It is no coincidence that in Western culture under handed people are sometimes called reptiles, or snakes. It is because we dread the subtly of reptiles as much as we dread the subtly of lawyers and politicians, yet the very stealth that causes people to hate and fear reptiles is the very thing that keeps them alive. If a mammal doesn't see the snake in the grass, or mistakes the crocodile for a floating log, or can't penetrate that solid turtle shell, then the reptile will eat, and not be eaten. For this reason, all reptiles today have their own methods of lying low, except in the age of mammals there were a few that didn't. (Backer 52, Langston 291, Prehistoric wildlife )

Starting in the 1870s Palaeontologist have been finding fossils of strange crocodiles, in Wyoming, France, Germany and the Ceron shale of Oregon. Close examinations of their skulls proved that these animals were indeed crocodiles, but they were unusual in several different ways. In the first place the tails of these animals were round instead of the flat and fin-like like today's semi-aquatic crocodiles. The skulls of the prehistoric animals also sported sharp, latterly, flat teeth instead of the conical teeth of modern crocodiles. Crocodiles today use their teeth for gripping fish, and grabbing land animals to drown them, but these prehistoric creatures had teeth that, from the front, looked like the serrated edges of knives. Most unusual of all was that these prehistoric crocodiles had legs that could hold their bodies high off the ground, and hoof like toes for running down pray. Indeed, computer models show these animals could even be bi-pedal when in full gallop, as their center of gravity would pull them upright. These strange prehistoric crocodiles would collectively form the genius Pristichampus or saw crocodile (Backer 53, Langston 291-300, http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/p/pristichampsus.html)

The various species of Pristichampus, had clearly evolved as chase, land, predators, and with specimens being up to ten feet long and weighing up to five hundred pounds, they could easily rival many of today's big cats. Had these land crocodiles existed in a time before mammals, their existence would be less remarkable. Pristichampus species, however, existed after the dinosaurs. Strata and Uranium dating prove the oldest Pristichampus fossils are fifty six million years old, nine million years after the death of the dinosaurs. This was a time period that palaeontologist call the “Paleocene,” a ten million year period when mammals were just beginning to radiate into the many groups that exist today (Backer 52, Langston 295, http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/p/pristichampsus.html.)

The Pristichampus genius was not the only group of mammal like crocodiles to evolve in the age of mammals. In Venezuela, Paleontologist found the skull of a crocodile sporting the same knife like teeth of Pristichampus. At first it was thought to be the skull of a dinosaur that survived the meteorite. On closer examination it was proven to be the skull of another land crocodile, now referred to as Barnasuchus. Though only the skull of Barnasuchus have been found, paleontologist claim that the animal was eighteen feet long, based on comparisons of other crocodiles (Paleo Venezuela).

In Austrialia another land crocodile was found, an animal called Quinkana (native spirit). Though its body design was similar to Pristichampus, it distinguished its self by surviving into the age of humanity. Indeed, it went extinct forty thousand years ago, right when humans first arrived in Australia. It is notable that a land crocodile like Quinkana survived into the ice age, for not only would it have had to contend with cooler temperatures, but also with the “marsupial lion,” Thylacoleo and a twenty-foot long, nine hundred pound carnivorous lizard called Megalania. Megalania was mammal-like in it's own right, for as a top land predator of its planes, it was fulfilling a role normally held by big cats like lions and tigers (Prehistoric wildlife.)

Mammal-like land crocodiles were not the only reptiles of note in the Paleocene. In the cerrerjon Coal mines of Colombia, an entire rainforest ecosystem was fossilized, complete with coca and Banana trees, Lungfish, and enormous reptiles. These giant reptiles include, turtles the size of pool tables, crocodiles that were forty feet long, and Titanoboas, anaconda relatives that weighed a ton and a quarter, and were forty-eight feet long. Though these giant reptiles may seem like beast from the age of the dinosaurs, but Uranium dating confirms that they existed sixty-million years ago, five million years after the dinosaurs died (Guglliotta 2.)

The discovery of so many dominant reptiles in the age of mammals forces a revision in the idea that mammals had an uninterrupted march of world conquest after the death of the dinosaurs. Even so, Paleontologist do not claim that the existence of these reptiles warrants a major rethinking in their understanding of evolution or ecology. As paleontologist Robert T Backer noted, reptiles like Pristacampus are the exceptions that prove the rule of mammalian dominance as many of them existed just long enough to serve as “seat warmers,” while mammals evolved to take their niches. For climatologist, however, these prehistoric reptiles have created quite a stir (Backer 53.)

For a climatologist, the most striking aspect of the various Pristichampus species is that they lived in areas with winters that would kill crocodiles today, such as Germany, France, and Oregon; this would be true even if continental drift was taken into account, for Europe and North America were only a few degrees south of where they are today. Their existence in such northern places suggest that the world was much warmer than it is today, and was reminiscent of the global warming that climatologist are predicting for our future. Studying these ancient reptiles can therefor provide insights into what the Earth will look like when it is hotter, but the study of these reptiles is challenging long held ideas and observations of climate change (Guglliotta 3, Langston 293).

As a rule of thumb the warmer the climate the larger a cold blooded animal can be. Therefore it has been suggested that reptiles could be used as a kind of thermometer. Take for instance snakes. In England, where it is cold, snakes are never longer than six feet. In the warm tropics of Flordia the weather is barley warm enough to support Burmese pythons up to twenty feet. In the Amazon the weather is hot enough to sustain Anacondas that have been known to have grown over twenty feet in length and weigh up to three hundred pounds. Some reports exist of Anacondas up to thirty feet in length, but these reports are unverified. In 2005 the Nuclear Research Institute of St Peaterburg even took the step formulating an equation that shows how large cold-blooded animals can be for any given climate. Then in 2009 the team of paleontologist who discovered Titanoboa applied the equation to the twenty-five hundred pound snake they found. They concluded that the average temperature of Titanoboa's rainforest was somewhere between 88-92 degrees, considerably higher than the 82 degrees of today's amazon. (Guglliotta)

The study by Titanoboa's discovers contradicts many climate models that predict that, while the poles will warm considerably, the tropics will be warmed only slightly. The same models also predict that while the tropics will warm little they will nevertheless become very dry. The fact that Titanoboa was probably a water snake, co-existing with large turtles and crocodiles that are also semi-aquatic suggest that the tropics were in fact wet in their warm era. For these reasons climatologist argued against the results of the Titanoboa study. Counter studies argued that the model over estimated the temperature increase, and argued that Titanoboa's large size might have actually caused it to over heat if it was too warm, as a large body can store thermal energy. For this reason paleontologist have been willing to scale back their estimates, but it is not the only challenge to global warming as we know it (Guglliotta 4).

The success of reptiles during warmer past contradicts studies showing modern reptiles being threatened with global warming. Many species of lizards have had difficulty adjusting to increased temperature as they must spend more time in the shade and less time pursuing food. For this reason climate-biologist have predicted that as much as one fifth of lizards may go extinct because of global warming. Some species of turtles and crocodiles are also threatened with extinction, because the of temperature sensitivity of their eggs. The gender of crocodiles and sea turtles is actually determined by the average incubation temperature of eggs and if temperatures become too high only females will hatch, leading to a reproduction crisis; this is a very different scenario than displayed in the fossil record where crocs rose up and spread across the planet. Not all modern reptiles are affected negatively however (Wall, Pincheira-Donoso, et al).

A study conducted by the University of Queensland shows that some species of skink lizards actually show increased intelligence when hatched under high incubation temperatures. This was demonstrated by placing clear plastic wrap in front of a door way leading to food, and then having a different door way to food that was uncovered. Skinks hatched under higher temperatures showed more ability to recall which door way they could not pass, while skinks hatched under colder temperatures would spend more times bumping into the plastic. Some species of snake are also adjusting to global warming. A study of rat snakes by the University of Iowa, showed that rat snakes could adjust to the increased heat of the day by stalking pray at night. Indeed, it was found that they can catch more pray under the cover of darkness. Still, these exceptions do not explain the success of reptiles, particularly crocodiles, during the Paleocene (Mosher; Wall)

A better understanding of Paleocene reptilian success can be achieved with a more detailed description of the time period. The Paleocene began with the extinction of the dinosaurs sixty five million years ago. With dinosaurs and other major animal groups removed, other animals had the opportunity to evolve to take their place. Since mammals had survived the extinction event they had the opportunity to capitalize on this situation, but many of these early mammals were no bigger than mice, so crocodiles, which had also survived the extinction event, could take to the land without fear of large warm blooded animals feasting on them. Though it was only a matter of time before mammals evolved forms to out compete the land crocodiles, the crocs took the few million years of opportunity to evolve a mammal like body plan to better hunt on the land. Had this been the whole story mammal-like crocs would probably have been extinct in less than ten million years, but there was another factor that would slow mammalian evolution. Climate. (Freydlin,Wood.)

For unknown reasons the world had been slowly warming, on average a degree per million years after the dinosaurs went extinct sixty five million years ago. By five million years after the dinosaurs the world had become warm enough to support giant reptiles like titanoboa, and for the crocs of the pristochampus genus to extend their range into northern areas like Europe. This slow warming would continue for another four million years, but then in as little as one hundred thousand years, the temperature of the world jumped another five degrees (Freydlin, Wood).

Examination of carbon isotpes in ocean drilling cores strongly suggest that this sudden jump in world temperature was caused by a release carbon based, green house gasses. Then as now, Methane and other gasses were compressed into a solid on the ocean floor, kept there by intense pressure, but because the world was warming, the solid had the energy to sublimate back into a gas and escaped solution. The gasses had the same effect as burning all known reserves of fossil fuels (Freydlin, Wood).

Mammals, among other animals were, adversely affected by the warming. Some early species did not survive, others did by evolving into more diminutive forms. Early horses in particular shrunk from the size of golden retrievers to the size of house cats. This is because being small helps animals throw off excess body heat, which is particularly important for warm blooded animals in a hot environments (Wood).

Reptiles were also affected by the warming as some species of turtles and a few species of crocodiles did go extinct, but fossil of land crocodiles showed that they had endured the sudden warming, and unlike mammals they did not shrink. In contrast to warm blooded animals, cold blooded animals find advantage in being large while living in hot climates, as their large bodies can insulate them from the heat. Indeed, during this time period reptile fossils have been found from the equator to the north pole; alligators were swimming in the waters of Greenland, and for mammals it was the age dinosaurs all over the again, because they had to hide in the shadows from the giant reptiles that ruled the world. But Mammals would not need to stay in the shadows for long (Freydlin, Wood).

The next time period was the Eocene, and it marked a gradual and sporadic cooling. The Pristochampus species did not last longer than five million years into Eocene. Predator mammal groups like carnivora finally had the time and climate they needed to evolve the forms they needed to out compete them. Other land crocs lasted longer, but mammals ultimately triumphed and now reptiles are forced into hiding (Freydlin.)

Today we mammals need not fear reptiles rising up again even in this era of global warming. The CO2 in our atmosphere will be processed out in approximately one hundred thousand years as demonstrated during the Paleocene, which is not enough time for reptiles to evolve larger sizes and mammal like forms. Still, the question remains; how will reptiles and how will mammals fair during the coming climate change? While is true both groups are struggling, it should not be doubted that reptiles have adapted to world were mammals are dominant, and they once adapted to a world where they are not. Perhaps then, they will adapt to a world that one mammal has ruined.

Work cited

American Brodcasting Corporation News, Death of the Dinosaurs: New Proof of Asteroid or Meteor Impact. ABC News, 2013. Web. 2 May. 2013

Bakker, Robert. The Dinosaur Heresies. New York: William Morrow and Company, INC, 1986. Print.

Pincheira-Donoso, D., Tregenza, T., Witt, M.J. & Hodgson, D.J. The evolution of viviparity opens opportunities for a lizard radiation but drives it into a climatic cul-de-sac. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 2013

Freydlin, Julie Global Warming and the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum. Envioromental News Network, 24 January, 2013. 28 April 2013

Guglliotta, Guy. “How Titanoboa, the 40 Foot-Long Snake, Was found.” Smithsonian magazine, April 2012. Web. 30 April, 2013

Langston, Wann JR. “Ziphodont Crocodiles.” Filediana Geology 33 1974: 291-314. Online here

Everything about the Barinasuchus arveloi. Paleo Venezuela 19 Aug 2012 Web. 30 April 2013

Mosher, Dave. Global Warming May Make Reptiles smarter. Wired/weiredscience. 01 Nov, 2012. Web 28 April, 2013

Prehistoric Wildlife. Pristichampuss. PW, 2012. 28 April. 2013

Wood, Arron. Global Warming Event Shrank Earliest Diminutive Horses to the size of House Cat, March 2012 Web. 04 April 2013

Wall, Tim Rat Snakes Gain Climate change energy Boost. Discovery News, 10 Jan, 2013 web 30 April, 2013