Monthly Archives: May 2016

GIRAFFES AND SABERTOOTHS: AN UNEASY COEXISTENCE

For a medium sized sabertooth like Megantereon, remaining unseen was of the essence. With its strong, muscular physique it was not nearly a long-distance runner, so it needed to stalk within a few meters of its prey in order to catch it after a couple of spectacular leaps. But its prey, including medium sized antelopes, pigs or even horses, had a lofty ally: the giraffe.
Since the late Miocene, members of the modern giraffe lineage evolved their long necks and tall forequarters, and inevitably became the sentinels of the savannah. From the privileged viewpoint of their 5 meter height, they miss little of what goes on around them

Some 7 million years ago during the Turolian (late Miocene) the giraffid Bohlinia attica had already developed the large size and unique body porportions of modern giraffes. It inhabited the open woodlands of Europe, giving them a striking “African” touch.
bohlinia attica low res

Any good wildlife tracker in Africa takes advantage of the presence of giraffes in order to locate the big cats. As soon as a predator moves in the vicinity, giraffes stop their browsing or casual walking, and stand motionless pointing with their stare in the direction of the carnivore. That habit is as convenient for the less tall herbivores as it must be annoying for the predators.

Back in the Pliocene and Pleistocene of Africa, the giraffid Giraffa jumae was a contemporary of the sabertooth Megantereon whitei. While the cat tried to take advantage of every element of the landscape to conceal itself, it could hardly escape the stare of the giraffe, which surely ruined many an attempted stalk!
megantereon stalking

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SABERTOOTH HYGIENE: SURVIVAL OF THE CLEANEST

All cats devote a large chunk of their time to fastidiously taking care of their hygiene and if anything, sabertooths had even more reason to do so.
Right after killing a large prey, as it should do at least once a week, a sabertooth of the genus Megantereon would look like a bloody mess -literally. Unlike modern cats, its killing bite relied mostly on causing massive blood loss to ensure a rapid death of its victim, and that implied a somewhat untidy spectacle. But if we could find the sabertooth at any random moment, chances are we would find a pretty clean animal, which is only what you would expect from a cat.

If we could time-travel and come across the sabertooth Megantereon, it is very likely that it would be grooming itself
!
megantereon self cleaning

A sabertooth smeared in old blood would be pestered by flies, it would be prone to skin conditions, and would be more easily smelled by potential prey, so it needed to be quite conscientious about its grooming.
But of course there are other benefits to grooming, incluiding the fact, obvious to any cat owner, that it feels good and decreases stress! Social species would benefit from mutual grooming but a solitary animal, as Megantereon most likely was, would need to twist a bit around. But then its long and flexible neck would be a welcome aid in reaching those difficult spots!

MORE PALEO-MURALS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN

The most usual time for me to find long-lost sketches is when I am looking for something else. A few days ago while searching my old folders I came across a few drawings which I thought were lost for good. These included some discarded sketches for the murals of the 1993 exhibit “Madrid antes del Hombre” (in an earler post I shared a few sketches which I did for that exhibit).
The scene which probably changed the most during conceptual sketching was the reconstruction of the Miocene fossil site of Paracuellos. Looking at the site’s faunal list I first envisioned a forest scene where a pack of bear-dogs harassed a chalicothere mother and her young. I just chose from the list the species which looked most appealing to me.

Here is my first sketch for the Paracuellos site reconstruction. The bear-dog-chalicothere interaction is the undisputed centre of attention.
boceto paracuellos version 1 a

But the scientific advisors tought that the woods actually occupied only a small fraction of the area where the fossils accumulated, so they advised me to show a more open environment. Also they asked me to show other species which were more abundant as fossils at the site, because the bear-dogs and especially the chalicotheres were quite rare finds.

My second version kept the “stars” of the first sketch (the bear-dogs), but they were now cornered in the right-hand section of the scene, leaving room for the more abundant species. Also in this case the victims of the bear-dog attack were not chalicotheres but primitive rhinos.
boceto paracuellos version 2

Unfortunately the scientists found that even this second version did not show clearly enough the inferred environment around the site. Alluvial fans were an important feature of the arid, seasonal landscape, but it was too difficult to properly show them from a ground level perspective. So in the end an aerial view was favoured, and both the chalicotheres and the bear-dogs were totally left out of the scene!

Here is the sketch of the final version, with the reference lines I drew in order to transfer the drawing to the large canvas.
boceto paracuellos vers 3 baja

And here is the finished painting, alluvial fans and all, but no chalicotheres!
Paracuellos-baja

I won´t deny that all these changes implied some degree of frustration for me. I missed the opportunity to turn that chalicothere scene into a full-fledged, large format oil painting. Over the decades I made attempts to include that scene in other projects, but it simply never happened. Who knows, some ideas may be destined to remain forever at the sketch stage!