As I wrote my dinosaur book, I grew to love and appreciate the concept of evolution. Evolution is what turned humans from being single-celled organisms to becoming the dominant species on the planet. Throughout Earth’s long history, evolution has produced countless life forms. Some life forms are insignificant, some are beautiful, and some are real monsters. The possibilities with evolution are nearly limitless and it makes you wonder what is biologically possible. For example, from the Cambrian to the Devonian Periods, arthropods and vertebrates were in an evolutionary arms race to decide which would become the dominant life forms on the planet. In the end, vertebrates won while arthropods have been reduced to being some of the smallest creatures in the world. If one takes that arms race into account, one must consider how life could have evolved if arthropods became the dominant life forms instead of vertebrates. Another scenario to consider is if the Permian mass extinction did not take place. That would mean that dinosaurs would not have had a chance to evolve and other organisms would have taken their place. If the dinosaurs did not go extinct, mammals would not have had a chance to evolve and diversify as they did. Pondering all of these various scenarios is really mentally stimulating when you consider the forms life on Earth could have taken if evolution went a different direction. This brainstorming has served me well when creating the other reverse engineered life forms that live alongside the manmade dinosaurs in my story. It has been a super-fun exercise that I will continue to ponder as I continue to write my future dinosaur books.
“All the changes in evolution you affected; they will come in the Waves. First will be climate. Then vegetation, the early manifestations of life. Then come the more complex organisms.”
Dr. Sonia Rand, A Sound of Thunder
In the film version of A Sound of Thunder, we were introduced to a possible alternate reality where the past 65 million years of evolution was completely rewritten. All of this was caused by a prehistoric butterfly being stepped on by careless time travelers. Still, the organisms of this alternate reality presented us with an intriguing ecosystem that deserves to be explored more.
In terms of climate, this alternate Earth was 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night and mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit in the day time. The humidity was over 90 percent. All of these readings were in the middle of November, which implies that the climate would be hotter and more humid in Spring or Summer.
The vegetation of this alternate Earth was also intriguing because it was stronger and more developed than the plants we are familiar with. A prime example would be a species of vine that was armed with detachable thorns that were filled with a potent toxin. The toxin induces partial paralysis and operates like a hallucinogenic that triggers psychosis. When an animal gets too close to the vines, the vines would wrap around the creature like a snake attacking a mouse. At first glance, this trait could be seen as something carnivorous plants would have. However, it looks like this feature was meant as a defense mechanism to ward off herbivores.
While the climate and vegetation of this alternate reality were fascinating, the really amazing specimens are this ecosystem’s animals. Due to natural history being rewritten, different creatures evolved to replace the ones we are familiar with. Among those were swarms of beetles that would mob and envelope their prey like a school of piranha.
The most prominent example would be the baboon lizards. The exact evolutionary history of this species is largely unknown, but I can guess how it came to exist in the alternate reality. They may have been the descendants of dinosaurs that developed primate-like features. They may have began as a species of reptile that re-evolved mammalian traits such as the Permian mammal-like reptiles. Either way, the baboon lizards are one of the most complex creatures in the alternate reality. Like primates, these beasts are social animals that travel in troops and share a strong group bond. Either as a defense against predators or the overwhelming elements, the baboon lizards developed a very thick hide to the point in which only their throats were their only soft spot. While sleeping, baboon lizards sleep upside down like bats and become fiercely territorial if their sleep is disturbed. While clearly carnivores, they may have been omnivorous due to the unique nature of their primate-like teeth. Based on all available information, it would seem the baboon lizards have replaced humans as the dominant species on the planet.
Instead of birds, the skies of this alternate reality were ruled by large bat-like creatures. These bats were large enough to rival prehistoric pterosaurs. Like the baboon lizards, these bats seemed to be a blend between reptile and mammal like the Permian mammal-like reptiles. They hunt in flocks like vultures while their legs and talons were strong enough to peel away solid steel. They apparently hunted their prey like birds of prey by snatching prey items off the ground with their vise-like feet.
Another inhabitant of this alternate reality were giant eel-like creatures that lurk in swamps saturated in sulfur. These eels resemble a blend between reptile and fish. While their heads are semi-shaped like those of a carnivorous dinosaur, their jaws seem to operate like those of a crocodile. When a prey item gets caught in the eel’s jaws, the eel would hold the prey underwater until it drowns. In addition to its gripping jaws, the eel could wrap its coils around a prey item like a snake to either crush the prey to death or pull it into its waiting mouth. While hunting prey, the eel visibly had barbels hanging from its face like those of a catfish. This would allow it to sense vibrations in the water. Overall, this eel provides another reason why this alternate reality is ill-suited for human life.
We finally reach the oddest life form to live in the alternate reality, which is what humanity would evolve into. This new species of human looks almost alien in appearance with large eyes that would open and close with a thin membrane. This could indicate that it was sensitive to bright light and preferred to live in dark places. This would be reinforced by the fact that this being has a pale pigmentation like a naked mole rat, which would make the rest of its body vulnerable to bright lights. Like a catfish, this being had whisker-like barbels on its face. Also, it has a waddle dangling from its throat like a turkey. These features may have been used for display amongst members of its own species. Unlike mankind as we know it, these beings are obviously not at the top of the food chain and are likely prey. In general, this creature is easily one of the most grotesque forms humanity could take if our evolution was altered.
In conclusion, the alternate reality presented to us in the film adaptation of A Sound of Thunder was very intriguing. Although it ceased to exist when the timeline was corrected, I would have loved to see what other strange life forms this ecosystem had to offer. It is one example of what is evolutionarily possible when natural history is altered.
One of the most intriguing examples of mammal evolution would be the horses. When they first began, the earliest horses, Propalaeotherium, were no larger than cats. These small creatures had feet that possessed four hoof-like toes. Due to their status as a prey item for predators, these animals were very skittish, ready to bolt at the slightest sound. As time went on, this small horse evolved and diversified into many forms. Some walked like gorillas and ate like pandas, some resembled rhinos and were twice as big as modern rhinos, and the rest became the horses we know today. I wonder if reverse engineered modern horses could turn into something resembling Propalaeotherium or the species that succeeded it. This will be something I will tinker with as I continue my dinosaur series.
One of my all-time favorite documentaries on speculative evolution would be The Future is Wild, which depicts how animals could evolve in three different time zones. Like books such as After Man and The New Dinosaurs, this documentary was partially created by Douglas Dixon. This documentary really stimulates the mind and makes one wonder what is evolutionarily possible. In order to gain inspiration for my dinosaur zoology book, I have been rewatching this documentary in order to better understand the functionality of an animal’s adaptations and how they would cope with extreme environments. Just as medieval documentaries helped me with my fantasy series, these kinds of documentaries will help me with both my zoology book and my dinosaur series as a whole.
As I mentioned before, my dinosaur zoology book will be based on a concept known as speculative evolution. Speculative evolution is the practice of theorizing how certain species would evolve under certain circumstances. Even though these animals are fictional in nature, their biology and behavioral traits are based on scientific concepts. These hypothetical creatures provide scholars a chance to provide educated guesses on how the planet’s biosphere would develop under certain conditions. With my dinosaur series, I am depicting how manmade genetically engineered prehistoric lifeforms would adapt to an equally artificial habitat. Above are three videos that talk about the origin and history of the study of speculative evolution.
One of the most famous success stories of evolution are sharks. They have inhabited the Earth’s oceans for four hundred million years, long before the dinosaurs. The key to their success is the simplicity of both their biology and lifestyle. The story of evolution is survival of the fittest and the simplest life form is often the strongest. Their bodies are very streamlined and ideal for swimming and their teeth and jaws are ideal for tackling all kinds of prey. Their lifestyle is so simple that all they do throughout their lifetimes is swim, eat, and reproduce and that’s it! Their success is what has allowed sharks to survive one mass extinction level event after another. It is very likely that sharks will continue to exist long after humanity has gone extinct. Fishermen can try to overfish and exterminate sharks, but the sharks will ultimately outlast mankind just as they did the dinosaurs. I will be featuring a reverse engineered shark in my dinosaur book and I will be drawing inspiration from a prehistoric species of shark called Hybodus, which means “humped tooth”. Hybodus was able to survive the Jurassic oceans for two reasons. First, the spikes on its fins gave it protection against large predators like pliosaurs. Second, Hybodus had two different kinds of teeth; sharp teeth for slicing through fish and squid and another set that was flat for crushing shellfish and crustaceans. This allowed Hybodus to thrive on a wide variety of prey in the competitive sea. I will also be drawing inspiration from other sharks I have learned about on Shark Week. I should give you a heads up that I will not be including a Megalodon-like shark in my dinosaur book since not even the scientists in the story will go that far.