Welcome Back?

Gwawinapterus beardi
O̳̘̰͎͠l̦̖̰͈̜̺̰͞d̫̗̹͘ ̺͍̬͖̥̝b͎̗̠͈̼͙͔͢o̶̙̙n̨e̲̝̖̰ͅs̱̳ ̘͈͙̲̜̲̀c̛̲̹̯̘͔o̩͠m̥̲͎̼̣̼͍ę̫͖ b͓̠̤̪̭̘ͅạ̝̥̘̻c͎͜k̨̜

https://peerj.com/articles/7688/

Learning about Nurhachius’ tooth replacement gave me chills. This tooth replacement pattern is what disqualified Gwawinapterus beardi from being a pterosaur, so….

The Mystery Of The Sky Dragons

coloborhynchus_attack_by_hodarinundu_d4c0qsz-fullviewColoborhynchus Attack” by HodariNundu.

In 2017 an abstract detailing isotope data on ornitocheiroid* pterosaurs was published. To my knowledge the full paper hasn’t been published yet, which is a shame given its base premise: that some ornithocheiroid pterosaurs might have preffered to hunt terrestrial prey.

*”Ornithocheiroid” here is used as it was conceived by Unwin 2003: any pterodactyloid pterosaur closer to Pteranodon longiceps than to Quetzalcoatlus northropi or Pterodactylus antiquus. The term was invented in Kellner 2003 to refer to a clade composed of Anhanguera blittersdorffi, Pteranodon longiceps, Dsungaripterus weii and Quetzalcoatlus northropi and from Andres 2008 onwards it has been redefined as including both Azhdarchoidea and Pteranodontia, the latter encompassing taxa as defined in Unwin 2003 due to the fact that traditional Pteranodontia (Nyctosauridae + Pteranodontidae) has been found paraphyletic in relation to these other taxa. There are a lot of reasons why this is stupid, most notably the fact that a traditional Pteranodontia is consistently being recovered again (Andres 2018, Longrich 2018), so Unwin 2003 definition it is. If you feel uncomfortable try mentally replacing “ornithocheiroid” with “pteranodontian” in your imagination.

Most ornithocheiroid pterosaurs are assumed to have been piscivores. Even with the “pterosaur revolution” of the 2010’s its pretty undeniable most species fit the traditional “seagull pterosaur” image: most are found in marine settings, most were soarers similar to modern pelagic birds like albatrosses and frigatebirds, several either have adaptations for launching out of water or ossified tendons indicating a perpetually aerial lifestyle and, most importantly, several taxa have been found with fish on their innards or pellets or conversely being eaten by marine predators (Witton 2013). However, quite a few taxa have been recovered in terrestrial settings, have lower aspect ratios and show adaptations for other lifestyles: in the case of istiodactylids for scavenging and in the case of boreopterids for trapping small freshwater prey (Witton 2013). If you assume lonchodectids are ornithocheiroids, then their purported azhdarchid-like morphology would make them an unique case of terrestrial foragers akin to modern storks and cranes (Witton 2013).

image descriptionIstiodactylus latidens devouring a dead stegosaur by Mark Witton.

Still, the idea of raptorial ornithocheiroids has not been explored. Taxa usually identified as ornithocheirids and anhanguerids have large, forward facing eyes, large jaw muscles, “intimidating” teeth and distended palates, as opposed to the small eyes, cookie-cutter shark-like teeth (best suited to simply rip meat instead of killing prey) and non-distended palates of the scavenging istiodactylids and the small eyes,  fragile teeth, weak jaw muscles and non-distended palates of the small-prey piscivore boreopterids (Witton 2013); these adaptations are serviceable for hunting aquatic prey, but they can also be translated to a terrestrial prey context, as seen in other groups. Furthermore, at least one taxa, “Anhanguera” robustus, had hindlimbs comparatively more specialised for terrestrial locomotion, indicating that, much like istiodactylids (Witton 2013) some ornithocheirids/anhanguerids could have walked more or less efficiently while still retaining a mostly aerial lifestyle (Naish 2018).

The presence of raptorial ornithocheiroids could explain a few quirks of pterosaur diversity throught time:

  • Giant azhdarchids do not show up in the fossil reccord until the Late Cretaceous, after the extinction of toothed ornithocheiroids (Witton 2013). This could suggest that toothed ornithocheiroids occupied large volant predatory niches both on terrestrial and marine settings and were succeeded by large azhdarchids on the former and pteranodontians in the latter after the Turonian extinction event.
  • The supposed absence of raptorial pterosaurs (which I’ve brought up several times when discussing flight in volaticothere mammals*) is thus addressed: they were there all along!
  • The diversity of ornithocheiroids more or less parallels that of rhamphorhynchids, which similarly produced terrestrial carnivores and aquatic soarers (though rhamphorhynchid ecological diversity is somewhat more limited). As ornithocheiroids do not co-exist temporally with rhamphorhynchids (the only Jurassic putative representative, Archaeoistiodactylus linglongtaensis, has since turned out to be a basal monofenestratan [Wang 2014]), this leads credence to the idea that they evolved in the Early Cretaceous and are thus more closely related to azhdarchoids than ctenochasmatoids and other Jurassic pterodactyloids are.
  • Given that pterosaurs are superprecocial and likely occupied several niches as they grew, this likely also solves the relative rarity of aerial insectivorous pterodactyloids, since the juveniles of these raptorial ornithocheiroids likely occupied such niches.

* Friendly reminder a paper on volaticotheres is coming out soon!

Hopefully more work on this topic is done on the near future.

References

https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2017AM/webprogram/Paper305496.html

Kellner, A. W. A., (2003): Pterosaur phylogeny and comments on the evolutionary history of the group. pp. 105-137. — in Buffetaut, E. & Mazin, J.-M., (eds.): Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 217, London, 1-347

Unwin, D. M., (2003): On the phylogeny and evolutionary history of pterosaurs. pp. 139-190. — in Buffetaut, E. & Mazin, J.-M., (eds.): Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 217, London, 1-347

Andres, B.; Clark, J.; Xu, X. (2014). “The Earliest Pterodactyloid and the Origin of the Group”. Current Biology24: 1011–6. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.030. PMID 24768054.

Nicholas R. Longrich; David M. Martill; Brian Andres (2018). “Late Maastrichtian pterosaurs from North Africa and mass extinction of Pterosauria at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary”. PLOS Biology. 16 (3): e2001663. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2001663. PMC 5849296 Freely accessible. PMID 29534059

Witton, Mark (2013). Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691150611.

Martin-Silverstone, E., Sykes, D., Naish, D. (2018). “Does Postcranial Palaeoneurology Provide Insight into Pterosaur Behavior and Lifestyle? New Data from the Azhdarchoid Vectidraco and the Ornithocheirids Coloborhynchus and Anhanguera“. Palaeontology. doi:10.1111/pala.12390

Sullivan, C.; Wang, Y.; Hone, D.W.E.; Wang, Y.; Xu, X. & Zhang, F. (2014). “The vertebrates of the Jurassic Daohugou Biota of northeastern China”. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 34 (2): 243–280. doi:10.1080/02724634.2013.787316.

On sea turtles

Inaechelys_pernambucensis_paleoArt-Julio_Lacerda-EarthArchivesInaechelys pernambucensis by Julio Lacerda. Once upon a time, the sea was full of side-necked turtles, sticking to the sea floor while the ancestors of modern sea turtles swam above them.

Sea turtles are best known as the sea reptiles that got away, the only survivors of the Mesozoic assemblages of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and all that. Technically this is not true (dyrosaurids, gavialids, several sea snake taxa and neochoristoderes would like to have a word), but it also trivialises one small detail about modern sea turtles: they are all members of a single lineage, Chelonioidea. As turtles have dominated aquatic niches since the Triassic, surely one would expect more than one group to have become adapted to life in the sea.

And indeed, that is the case.

Several extinct lineages of turtles have conquered the seas. Depending on who you ask, the number may be as little as 4 times and as high as 8, still a bit short depending on your expectations for an aquatic group but nonetheless a much larger menagerie than the modern survivors would imply. Some of these groups were just as cosmopolitan and diverse as modern sea turtles, while others were apparently short-lived explorations of the sea. Regardless, these animals attest to several guilds of marine shelled reptiles comparable to the modern freshwater diversity of niches, and a few even rank as some of the largest turtles of all time.

Their absence in modern times is quite sad, and sadder still is that some did live up until very recently.

The first mariner

HitchingOdontochelys semitestacea by Brian Choo, hitching a ride from giant crinoids floating near the sea surface.

One of the very earliest turtles was already specialised to a life at sea. Odontochelys semitestacea is best known for its decidely basal, un-turtle-like absence of a carapace and presence of a solitary plastron and teeth (its in the name, after all), but a little known fact is that this animal occurs in deep sea marine deposits otherwise dominated by pelagic or abyssal taxa. As noted by Brian Choo, its unlikely that this critter was dragged from freshwater or even coastoal sites.

So one of the very first turtles lived far out in the open ocean.

As Odontochelys semitestacea lacks speciations for a pelagic lifestyle like flippers, a lifestyle proposed is that this animal hitchhiked rides on the giant crinoids that occupied the main filter feeding niche in Triassic seas, sticking close to the sea surface. Given that turtles are among the few amniotes to breathe underwater, however, its not inconceivable that this was a benthic critter unlike any other vertebrate known, spending most of its life in the depths. Either way, the half-shelled toothed turtle spent its days gazing into the abyss, only leaving the darkness of the sea to lay eggs on land.

Sea turtles like this appear to have been extremely rare, as Triassic oceans were instead home to another clade of armoured marine reptiles, the placodonts. It seems it took the extinction of these animals to allow turtles to expand in the Jurassic, though given the presence of an already specialised turtle living far away from shore it is just as likely that these critters co-existed just fine with their distantly related shelled bretheren.

Angolachelonia

CWSDuO2WcAA0SG2Leyvachelys cipadi by Jorge Blanco, enjoying a crab snack as it watches an ammonite die. Note the massive hands.

The seas of the Jurassic, Cretaceous and Palaeocene were home to an unique lineage of turtles, the angolachelonians. This assemblage is composed by Thalassochelydia, a clade composed by several Late Jurassic turtles of Europe and possibly Argentina, and Sandownidae, a clade ranging from the Cretaceous to Palaeocene with a more or less cosmopolitan distribution. The exact classification of these turtles has been controversial with several members having popped up across the turtle phylogenetic tree in previous studies, but the consensus is that they form a monophyletic group just outside the clade leading to crown-group turtles. They however so strongly converged with chelonioidean sea turtles on a variety of traits that the possibility that they’re actually cryptodires and closely related/ancestral to them can’t be fully ruled out yet.

449px-Solnhofia_parsonsi_54545Solnhofia parsonsi by “Ghedoghedo”. Again, notice the massive hands.

Like modern sea turtles, angolachelonians had enlarged anteorbital fenestrae allowing for large salt glands and shell fontanelles to increase the hydrodynamic value of their shells (Anquetin 2017). Unlike modern sea turtles, however, they did not possess flippers, but did they have enlarged digits, meaning that they were still competent swimmers and that in life their limbs probably resembled the mini-bat wings of modern soft-shelled and pig-nosed turtles (Anquetin 2017). Because of this it is assumed that, unlike modern sea turtles, angolachelonians did not swim much in the open sea and were mostly near-shore specialists, a few species even having secondarily returned to brackish water biomes (Billon-Bruyat 2005). Nonetheless, most species were in fact fully marine (Billon-Bruyat 2005, Anquetin 2017) and given the fact that a few are found in deep sea deposits (Mateus 2009) and the aforementioned adaptations for efficient swimming I wonder if a few like Angolachelys mbaxi weren’t in fact fully pelagic.

golaAngolachelys mbaxi by “BoneSharpe”. The artist seems to have agreed with my beliefs and depicted this animal as a deep sea specialist alongside Angolasaurus.

Both groups of angolachelonians have been recovered as monophyletic true clades, though a ghost lineage for sandownids must have existed for 30 million years or so must have existed to explain the temporal discrepancies between the two groups’ ranges. Thalassochelydians occur both in open sea and marginal marine environments including estuary habitats, putting them as more generalised in terms of ecology, while sandownids are known from both shallow and deep sea sites. Sandownids survived the KT mass extinction much like chelonioidean sea turtles; the exact date of extinction is unclear, but they likely disappeared either at the Eocene Thermal Maximum or in the Miocene alongside bothremyids, both climatic events that deeply affected sea life.

Pleurodires

caribeCaribemys oxfordiensis by Dmitri Bogdanov. One of the oldest crown-group turtles known, it seems to suggest that side-necked turtles were originally marine in habits.

Though side-necked turtles are nowadays restricted to the lakes, rivers and swamps of South America, Africa, Madagascar, New Guinea and Australia, in the past they were a cosmopolitan group occuring not only in freshwater bodies in Europe and Asia but also in the seas all over the world. Marine pleurodires are typically treated in literature as multiple different invasions of the sea by various lineages, but given that the earliest known pleurodire, Caribemys oxfordiensis, is a marine animal (Iturralde-Vinent 2001) as well as the fact that extinct pelomedusids do occur in marine settings (Ferreira 2015) it is just as likely that pleurodires were ancestrally marine and later returned to freshwater environments.

Pleurodires are rather distinctive turtles, so unlike angolachelonians they don’t suffer from taxononomical ambiguity in regards to their relations to chelonioids. Marine species don’t seem to differ much from freshwater species, some speciations like enlarged salt glands probably unecessary given how modern pleurodires have efficient cloacal breathing and filtering. Like angolachelonians pleurodires never seem to have developed flippers and seem to be most common in near-shore environments, but even today some modern species have freakishly enlarged hands, attesting to some moderately efficient swimming capacities; one species, Araripemys barretoi, has been compared to modern pig-nosed turtles in terms of forelimb anatomy. Like modern species, most were probably benthic, ambushing prey from the sea bottom or probing crevaces.

Fbot2A fictional marine pleurodire species from The Speculative Dinosaur Project, drawn by Brian Choo. Real marine pleurodires did not have flippers (though enlarged hands come close enough), but the “ass-gills” might be truer to form.

The most successful lineage of marine pleurodires were the bothremydids, which occured in marine environments in all continents from the mid-Cretaceous to the Miocene. Some marine pelomedusids did survive until much recently to the Pleistocene in the Indian Ocean. Global cooling events seem to have mostly done both lineages, but at least Stereogenyina species seem to have overlapped ecologically with modern carettine sea turtles, implying that competition from the latter did them in.

Meiolaniidae

meioMeiolania platyceps defecating in the sea by Joschua Knüppe. I have nothing to say.

Yes, Meiolania platyceps appears to have been a marine turtle.

As it turns out, the supposed terrestrial habits for at least this species are erroneous, ranking closer to aquatic turtle species than land dwelling ones. Several unique adaptations of meiolaniid turtles, such as the enlarged nasal area and supposed tail club, are thus interpreted as having evolved in an aquatic context, the former housing salt glands and the latter being simply a reinforced tail, a more extreme version of the armoured tails of freshwater turtles like snappers. As there were no large freshwater bodies in Lord Howe island, Meiolania platyceps is interpreted as having been a coastoal herbivore akin to the modern marine iguana; its extinction is even connected to the declining sea levels of the Pleistocene, which would have surely favoured a terrestrial species but not a coastoal amphibious one.

Of course, a few mysteries remain. As noted in the paper, the short hand of Meiolania platyceps could suggest an ancestry from a terrestrial ancestor, implying that other meiolaniids could have been in fact terrestrial herbivores and that this particular species adopted unique marine habits based on its deficient island environment much like the marine iguana. Conversely, it could imply that other meiolaniids were in fact aquatic and that the Meiolania species of Melanesia are in fact the world’s youngest non-chelonioid sea turtles, having become extinct with the arrival of human beings a few hundred years ago.

Regardless, meiolaniids are nowadays agreed to be outside the turtle crown-group, making them also unique for being a truly ancient turtle lineage that survived into moern times. Assuming marine habits for all recently extinct meiolaniids, these are some of the most un-sea turtle like sea turtles of all time, being weird water dragons rather than graceful udnerwater flyers.

Conclusion

Fbot3Another speculative pleurodire by Brian Choo.

Fossil turtles are underappreciated enough as it is. Hopefully this little trip through the prehistoric seas has illustrated why the very image of the sea turtle as we know it does not reflect the true diversity of these amazing animals.

 

References

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/pala.12384

Anquetin et al 2017. A review of the fossil record of turtles of the clade Thalassochelydia. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, 58, 317–369.

Octávio Mateus; Louis Jacobs; Michael Polcyn; Anne S. Schulp; Diana Vineyard; André Buta Neto; Miguel Telles Antunes (2009). “The oldest African eucryptodiran turtle from the Cretaceous of Angola” (PDF)Acta Palaeontologica Polonica54 (4): 581–588. doi:10.4202/app.2008.0063.

A new pleurodiran turtle from the Jagua Formation‭ (‬Oxfordian‭) ‬of western Cuba.‭ ‬Journal of Paleontology‭ ‬75‭(‬4‭)‬:860-869.‭ ‬-‭ ‬M.‭ ‬S.‭ ‬de la Fuente‭ & ‬M.‭ ‬Iturralde-Vinent‭ ‬-‭ ‬2001.

Ferreira, G.S., Rincón, A.D., Solórzano, A. & Langer, M.C. (2015) The last marine pelomedusoids (Testudines: Pleurodira): a new species of Bairdemys and the paleoecology of Stereogenyina.

 

The age of the man-kangaroo has dawned

kisspng-short-faced-bears-procoptodon-sthenurinae-kangaroo-the-kingdoms-of-evil-alphynix-5bef23401e0f82.5997650415423987841231Procoptodon by Cerri Thomas. Sthenurines have long been speculated as weird tip-toe walkers rather than hoppers, and now studies have definitely confirmed this.

So SVP 2019 abstracts are out:

http://vertpaleo.org/Annual-Meeting/Annual-Meeting-Home/SVP-Program-book-v5_w-covers.aspx

There’s lots of wonderful news amidst a bizarrely high amount on non-things like engaging the youth programs. I highly recommend you check out them all however.

Secondarily flightless gondwanatheres?

2017081111490077905Maiopatagium furculiferum, artist uncredited.

So people who are aware of the “flying foxes are primates” hypothesis may also be aware of its twin hypothesis, that primates evolved from gliding or flying ancestors. This is due to the assumption that primates are nested deeply in a clade of gliding/flying mammals alongside colugos and flying foxes, with microbats being the alledged closest outgroup.

flightless primates2Flightless primate cladogram by Darren Naish.

Of course, now we know these ideas are rubish. Bats are now known to be monophyletic and not even remotely related to primates, being closer to carnivorans, pangolins and ungulates. In general, the idea of secondarily flightless bats (or flying mammals and pterosaurs period) is growing dimmer in terms of likeliness,

However, recent reveals on the phylogeny of gondwanatheres, a successful group of herbivorous synapsids, has left me wondering. Traditionally assumed to be multituberculates, gondwanatheres have recently been recovered as nesting deeply within Haramiyida (Huttenlocker 2018), a clade of non-mammalian synapsids. Haramiyidans themselves have had a very complicated history as either non-mammals or true-mammals within Allotheria, but most recent phylogenetic studies seem to favour a non-mammalian identity (Luo 2015, Meng 2017).

Cifelliodon_wahkarmoosuch-novataxa_2018-Huttenlocker_Grossnickle_Kirkland_Schultz_et_Luo--@Paleojim-Cladogram from Huttenlocker et al 2018.

Haramiyidans are extremely rare in the fossil reccord, an attribute that has been suggested due to putative arboreal habits. This hypothesis was confirmed with the discovery of various Chinese haramiyidans, alongside another mindblowing characteristic: many of these animals were actually gliders.

nature23476-f1

Starting with the Xianshou species, Vilevolodon diplomylos and Maiopatagium furculiferum, the list later expanded to include Arboroharamiya jenkinsi (Han 2017) and its likely other known arboreal taxa were gliders as well. These animals occupied a broad range of herbivorous diets as to be expected of gliding mammals (Meng 2017), but most closely resembled colugos in terms of hand and foot anatomy, implicating similar hanging behaviours much like the flying lemurs and bats (Meng 2017).

So, in short, a lineage of clearly terrestrial animals  nested among a clade whose best known representatives are colugo-like gliders. Where have we hard that before?

Currently there are no known arboreal gondwanatheres, with sudamericids in particular being thought of as fossorial (for instance Patagonia peregrina, formerly thought to be a marsupial, was described as a “marsupial tuco-tuco” [Pascual & Carlini 1987]), contrasting heavily with their colugo-like ancestors. Such a transformation is rather exotic, and and it is likely that gondwanatheres evolved from non-gliding haramiyidans (such as Megaconus mammaliaformis, hyrax-sized and similar in terms of ecology), they nest deeply among the gliding taxa.

A possible transitional form can be seen on the subject of that paper, Cifelliodon wahkermoosuch.  This was a rather large haramiyidan, about the size of a rabbit, but more gracile than gondwanatheres. Typically reconstructed as a squirrel-like animal, I would like to imagine it as something more akin to a miniature Protemnodon, long limbed and maybe even with wing membranes but already specialised to walk and run efficiently on the ground.

454835a-f1.2Protemnodon species by Peter Schouten.

From then on, further speciation towards a terrestrial lifestyle would have been easy. In particular, gondwanatheres are best known from, where else, the southern continents, where maybe competition with multituberculate was minimal, allowing these older synapsids to prosper on the ground. Then again, multituberculates are known from the Cretaceous of Madagascar (Krause 2017) so who knows.

This could have some interesting implications in the reconstruction of gondwanatheres. Maybe vestigial gliding membranes would have remained even in specilised burrowers?

 

References

Huttenlocker AD, Grossnickle DM, Kirkland JI, Schultz JA, Luo Z-X. 2018. Late-surviving stem mammal links the lowermost Cretaceous of North America and GondwanaNature Letters

Luo, Zhe-Xi; Gates, Stephen M.; Jenkins Jr., Farish A.; Amaral, William W.; Shubin, Neil H. (16 November 2015). “Mandibular and dental characteristics of Late Triassic mammaliaform Haramiyavia and their ramifications for basal mammal evolution”. PNAS. 112 (51): E7101–E7109. doi:10.1073/pnas.1519387112. PMC 4697399. PMID 26630008. Retrieved 17 November 2015.

Qing-Jin Meng; David M. Grossnickle; Di Liu; Yu-Guang Zhang; April I. Neander; Qiang Ji; Zhe-Xi Luo (2017). “New gliding mammaliaforms from the Jurassic”. Nature. in press. doi:10.1038/nature23476.

Han Gang, A Jurassic gliding euharamiyidan mammal with an ear of five auditory bones, Nature doi:10.1038/nature24483

Pascual & Carlini 1987

David Krause, Simone Hoffman, Sarah Werning, First postcranial remains of Multituberculata (Allotheria, Mammalia) from Gondwana, August 2017Cretaceous Research 80 DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2017.08.009

Domesticated animals of Australia

petwallaby

Someone handling a wallaby. Artist uncredited.

Its becoming increasingly understood that Aboriginal Australians had farming societies (Gerritsen 2008, Gammage 2011), which included both typical agriculture of yams, millets and bush tomatoes and onions as well as more exotic means of production like fire-stick farming and aquaculture. The latter two in particular rely upon the manipulation of animals, raising the question as to whereas several stapples of Australian “wildlife” can actually be considered domesticates or semi-domesticates.

ak_dingo_2101

Dingo by Bob Tamayo. Dogs have been carried over to Australia in the second major wave of pre-colonial migrations 8000-6000 years BC. For the purposes of this article they do not count, since we’re talking about endemic animals.

Domestication isn’t just keeping animals around as your pals/food, its also “sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another group to secure a more predictable supply of resources from that second group”. Surprisingly, quite a few Australian animals do fit this description.

 

Short-finned Eeel

AnguillaAustrRK.jpg

Short-finned eel by Rudie H. Kuiter.

South Australia has seen the rise of an unique aquaculture of short-finned eels (Anguilla australis) that essentially substituted for conventional agriculture in the region. Starting circa 8000 years BC, local cultures began to trap eels in artificial wetlands and forcing them to pass through unique funnel-shaped baskets, allowing smaller eels to survive but trapping larger ones which would then be smoked and eaten.

Capturar

Eel trap seen here.

So efficient was the population management of eels and their production that the Dhauwurd Wurrung (also known as Gunditjmara) people were capable of living in sedentary lifestyles much like any farmer, and in fact their settlements are “several hundred houses” worth built continuously for several thousands of years (Chai 2017), and other people neighbouring them might have similarly lived semi-sedentary lives (Mallett 2002). The largest of these aquaculture lakes, Budj Bim, has thankfully been recognised recently as a world wonder.

As these people were actively selecting for larger, meatier eels, I think its fair to say that the short-finned eel is a true domesticated animal.

 

Cassowary

tamed-cassowary

Cassowary chick and its human “friends” in the New Guinean Highlands. Author uncredited.

Infamous for being the world’s deadliest bird, the cassowary should be more fmaous for also being one of the very few semi-domesticated animals in Oceania. Papuan and Northern Australian tribes regularly capture young birds and allow them to roam as poultry until they’re slaughtered. So prized are cassowaries they they’re exchanged as gifts between tribes (Bourke 2009) and its even possible that cassowaries were introduced by human beings into areas where they were previously absent (Davies 2002).

The question here is whereas cassowaries breed in captivity. If they don’t, they can be more accurately be described as “tamed” rather than true domesticated animals.

 

Kangaroos

5452886-3x2-700x467

Kangaroo hunt by Joseph Lycett. But was it a hunt……………………………. OR A SLAUGHTER!!!!!!111111111!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!666!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????

Kangaroos are not typically thought off as domesticated animals. But the Aboriginal Australian practise of fire-stick farming is essentially the art of imprisoning a kangaroo inside its own mind, modifying the natural environment as to create the ideal habitat for these critters to prosper and stay in (Gammage 2011).

Fire-stick farming is frequently described as “without fences”, using the kangaroo’s natural prefferences much as other people would keep livestock in enclosures. Aboriginals are thus actively manipulating kangaroos to suit their needs, which is pretty in line with what a domesticated animal is supposed to be.

If you think about it, there are no true wild kangaroos left; they have been constantly modified to suit Aboriginal needs for thousands of years. Only feral ones, much like the pig and horse escapees wandering the outback.

 

Quolls, Tasmanian Devils and Thylacines

pups

Thylacines in a barn. No artist credited because colonialists deserve to burn in hell.

Now we’re getting into the more speculative side of things. There are several annecdotes that document the taming if not domestication of several of Australia’s carnivorous marsupials.

Thylacines are noted to have been ridiculously docile. As dogs were never brought to Tasmania and the local Aboriginals were, contrary to racist beliefs in them losing fire, actually using fire-stick farming to the point of spreading several grass species (thus meaning that they were actually an agricultural society!), I wonder if thylacines weren’t domesticated outright. Would explain their temperament.

Tasmanian devils and quolls have also been reported as having been kept as pets by Aboriginals on some sources, but I can’t find an in-depth exploration on this subject. In any case, they were mostly likely simply tamed, as they don’t seem to have been altered to be too friendly to humans.

 

Killer Whales

Killer_Whale_(Old_Tom)_and_whalers

‘Old Tom’ telling his finned friend to grab something. See above picture.

The Yuin people developed an unique relationship with orcas. Though this is best documented by the relationship of a single individual (nicknamed “Old Tom”), its possible that this practise might span as far back in time as 10,000 BC.

In essence, Yuin fishermen tricked killers whales into thinking they were weak, thus prompting them to help subdue large whales. In exchange, the whales would eat the tongue and lips of the victim, while humans got the rest of the carcass.

The best way to describe this relationship is as mutualism rather than full blown domestication or even taming. Still, it represents one of the most ingenious animal-human relationships that have ever existed, comparable to the cooperation between fishermen and dolphins seen in other regions of the globe.

Conclusion

No matter how much colonists attempted to dismiss Aboriginal Australian civilization, the fact of the matter is that a diverse set of technologies was in place before the arrival of europeans. This includes domestication, a “mark of the civilized man” that was clearly present across the peoples of Australia.

Now let me dream of about my thylacine pet.

References

Rupert Gerritsen, Australia and the Origins of Agriculture, 2008

Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia, 2011

Chai, Paul (27 January 2017). “On a mission: Uncovering the past of Victoria’s Gunditjmara country”. Traveller.com.au.

Mallett, Ashley (2002). The Black Lords of Summer: The Story of the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England and Beyond. University of Queensland Press. pp. 169–175. ISBN 978-0-702-23262-6.

Davies, S. J. J. F. (2002). Ratites and Tinamous. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854996-2.