We know today that even toward the end of Mesozoic, most predatory dinosaurs were feathered rather than scaled, but it was still a bit of a shock to the first of Spec's biologists to find a planet seemingly populated only with fuzzy carnivores. Deinonychosaurian draks and tyrannosauroid striders (the principal predatory guilds of Spec) are both generously plumed, and so look incongruously cuddly.
In Africa and southern Asia, however, striding across the sun-baked savannas and tearing through the jungle primeval, were the real dinosaurs “big, scaly monsters”, knobbed with horns and spines, gnashing razor teeth and bellowing their ancient anger across the plains. Some traditionalists may be a bit disappointed with the fuzzy predators of the north, but the abelisaurs, hunters of Africa and southern Asia, are true scaly horrors.
Abelisaurs are derived from an ancient lineage, far removed from the feathered coelurosaurs that rule in the north. Indeed, these scaly carnivores split from their feathered cousins sometime during the Early Jurassic, 200-220 million years ago. The ancestors of the abelisaurs were dinosaurs like Ceratosaurus, fairly generalized predators that ranged across the Jurassic globe. However, recent discoveries of the earliest Jurassic abelisaurs, such as the Bajocian Eoabelisaurus, and the Pliensbachian Berberosaurus indicate they were already beginning to develop the small arms and large heads early on. By the Cretaceous, the last era of the Mesozoic, with most of the Northern Hemisphere now in the grip of the coelurosaurs, a group of these scaly predators, the abelisauroids, retained its dominance in South America, Madagascar, India and Africa, and probably in Australia and Antarctica.
Some of these abelisaurs were fairly normal-looking large and medium carnivores, while other took the form of strange, horned creatures like Carnotaurus, which resembles, but is only distantly related to, the modern priscataurs. These creatures were continued to flourish throughout the Paleogene and early Neogene in both Africa and South America. South America's species, however, were wiped out in the Pliocene by two major events. The first being when a meteorite struck close to the continent 3.3 million years ago. The factor which played a role in the extinction of the South American abelisaurs was during the Pliocene epoch, a multitude of fauna from North America, most notably errosaurs and deinonychosaurs, had driven various assortment of the native fauna into the point of extinct. The most noticeable casualty being Nanodon marshalensis, the last of the South American abelisaurs. Today, the abelisaurs can only be found in Africa and the warmer parts of Asia, and one group still holds on in Madagascar.
All abelisauroids are well adapted to long-distance running, similar to the tyrannosaurs, but their inability to stand cold has kept them out of northern Eurasia, the tyrannosaurs' stronghold. In India, the Middle East, and Africa, however, the abelisaurs are dominant, hunting large herbivores like hadrosaurs and ceratopsians, which also favor warm climates. The reason for this dominance is at present unknown, but may in part lie within the construction of the abelisaurids' jaws; unlike the tyrannosaurids, who are built for snapping, albeit bone-crushing bites, abelisaurs are built for biting in a way not dissimilar to Home-Earth felids: they either utilize a bite and retreat strategy in which they utilize their jaws like hatchets to bludgeon or saw chunks out of their prey, or bite-and hold the neck or skull of their prey until it succumbs to the crushing grip, blood loss or suffocation. In places such as the northern part of their range, there is a slight overlap with the tyrannosaurids that broadens in parts of Central China. However, the two families of predators generally avoid one another where they meet, though one as-yet-unproven report exists of a tarasque battling to the death with a nian (Smilotyrannus sinensis) in the Huang He River Valley.
Interestingly, these apex predators are also the slowest growing of the theropods alive today. A family-wide trait, numerous examples such as the Cretaceous Majungasaurus indicate that Mesozoic abelisauroids were slow-growing, often taking more than twenty years to reach full size. Such slow growth is perhaps not surprising, given that many genera lived in harsh environments, though why the trait has still carried over to modern forms remains a mystery.
PRISCATAURIDAE (Black beasts, tarasques, moloks, and pantherbulls)
The abelisaurian priscataurs ("butcher-bulls") range throughout Africa and the warmer parts of Eurasia as far east as India, but the African realm is their stronghold, from which they have successfully restricted the spread of large coelurosaurian predators from the North. This history is in stark contrast to their South American cousins, which were wiped out by invading North American predators during the Pliocene. However, the priscataurs' inability to cope with cool temperatures has barred them from spreading into northern Asia and the Americas.
Despite their ecological similarities to tyrannosaurs, priscataurs retain most of the primordial hunting style of big theropods. Like tyrannosaurs they chase their prey over long distances, but their killing method is different: priscataurs open their cavernous maw, crash into their prey, cut a big chunk of flesh out by means of their (comparatively) small, bladelike teeth, and retreat, waiting for the victim to die from blood loss and shock. Unlike tyrannosaurs with their immensely powerful jaws and huge, banana-shaped teeth, priscataurs are inefficient eaters, incapable of cleaning a carcass, let alone of cracking bones to get at the marrow. This habit probably explains the constant association of priscataurs with crunchercrocs.
Priscatauridae probably evolved in Africa from mid-sized abelisaurids midway through the Cenozoic, developing a larger, stronger skulls and increasingly atrophied forelimbs, though their ancestry can be traced back to the likes of the recently discovered Chenanisaurus barbaricus. In modern forms, the digits have become fused and are completely non-functional, with just one or two claws. May retain some function as muscle attachments in the torso or as claspers during mating, but may be completely functionless. Another unusual feature of the priscataurs is that the eye socket is, in adults, completely divided into two halves, the euorbital fenestra containing the eye and the parorbital fenestra containing a sinus.
Horned Molok (Afromoloch diabolus)
The horned molok is an African theropod that is remarkably similar to the late Cretaceous Carnotaurus of South America. Horned moloks live in small packs of 6-10 adult females and one male. Both sexes have large horny ridges above their eyes, these ridges having probably evolved to shadow the eyes from the sun. The male's ridges, however, have become ridiculously large nonfunctional horns. These horns seem to be purely sexual ornaments, and though the males have ritualized butting contests over the females, they only use the horny growths in front of the eye horns. Adult male horned moloks do not take part in hunting, but instead allows females to kill prey. The loner, un-mated males do hunt for themselves, but once they have mated, their horns grow to a size that blocks their vision to such an extent that effective hunting is impossible.
Congo Horned Molok (Afromoloch diabolus congolensis)
The Congolese subspecies of horned molok (Afromoloch diabolus congolensis), is smaller and rangier than its savanna-dwelling cousins, and mainly hunts forest saurolopes and hogbirds in family groups, but they will sometimes cooperate to bring down young gihugrongos. Nevertheless, they often use the hoser highways as convenient paths through the forest as they search for prey.
Caped Molok (Afromoloch colarus)
The caped molok is the smaller of the two molok species and lives far north of its savanna-dwelling cousin. Although these 5-6 m long predators are rather tiny compared to their kin, caped moloks are often the largest predators of the arid scrub that is their home.
Caped moloks are non-gregarious, hunting singly or in mated pairs. The males of the species tend to be more lightly built than the females, and sport enlarged brow-horns (though not nearly so large as those of the horned molok) and bright red scales on the bridge of the nose. Both sexes sport the "cape" of dark scales for which the species is named.
Asura (Afromoloch indus)
The asura or "indomolok" is a close relative of the caped and horned moloks, but lives in India rather than Africa. This 6 m long priscataur is a cursorial pack-hunter like the horned molok, but the asura lacks the enlarged orbital horns of its cousins and seems anatomically more primitive than the African species. It therefore seems unlikely that it could be descended from them, and indeed, it is not.
Fossils tell of a common ancestor of all Afromoloch species, which once roamed all over southern Eurasia, and was then pushed back to the warmer regions by the ice ages. This event isolated the indomolok from the African moloks, which only then split into two different species.
Greater Pantherbull (Tauropanthera atrox)
Home to gigantic herds of migratory and resident ungulapedes, the Serengeti is a mix of high grasslands, freshwater lakes, and plateaus covered by mountainous flora and spectacularly diversified fauna. But if those plentiful herds of herbivores mainly rely on speed to avoid bigger and slower priscataurid species from ripping their flesh off, they need constantly to be concerned about those swift running predators, the pantherbulls.
"Pantherbull" is a designation given to the four species of Tauropanthera: small, lightweight priscataurs that rely on high speed to achieve their killings. Pantherbulls present some characteristics, which help them to deal with such speedy prey. They are relatively small predators (the biggest achieving 7 meters in length). Their dermal armor and ornamentation are almost completely absent, while the legs are powerful, anchored by massive thigh muscles to hurl the animal forward at speeds exceeding 75 km/h.
Pantherbulls' skin is often cryptically patterned or highly contrasted in order to help to blend in against an always-shifting color environment. Their skulls are blunt, extremely strong and light due to enlarged openings, and they have superior senses of smell and sight. Pantherbulls wander through these plains and outer ridges of sparse forest either alone (young adult single males), in pairs (adult brothers), or in female packs. They are among the most sociable of the priscataurids.
Pantherbulls are the cheetahs of Spec, streamlined pursuit predators that run down their prey, the agile lanceheads and jackalopes. Females usually cooperate in bringing down prey, but the larger males hunt on their own or in the company of a single brother, and can knock a fully grown male lancehead down with a single bite. The scaly chicks are closely looked after in the female packs until they reach sexual maturity (which takes some 3 years). At this point, females join the pack as contributing hunters, while some males wander off on their own.
Popularly known as the most dangerous predators of Africa, pantherbulls are the subject of much bad press, much of it fabricated. However, these speedy carnivores are fiercely territorial, and extremely intolerant of trespassing biologists.
Cheetaur (Tauropanthera velox)
The cheetaur is the fastest member of a family of sprinters. These predators rank among the swiftest creatures on Spec, having evolved to catch, not the four-legged ungulapeds, but the fleet-footed, two-legged jackalopes. The cheetaur is also the smallest of the priscataurs, only 4 m long (half of this consisting of the tail), an adaptation to hunt small and fast-moving game. Cheetaurs are usually loners, but are sometimes known to cooperate with siblings or other closely related individuals. Despite this fact, a cheetaur will drive away or kill an unrelated individual if it catches one trespassing in its territory.
Single-Clawed Pantherbull (Tauropanthera monodigit)
At first assigned to the genus Priscataurus, this is far from being one, in actuality it is a species of pantherbull. While one tends to associate hooting cries with herbivores or birds, this species uses loud hoots that border on the ultrasonic to attract a mate.
Found further south than T. atrox, and roaming the strange plant community of South Africa, it is quick in ambushing. The similarly-colored Kalahari subspecies is nocturnal, and covers itself with a layer of sand during the day, leaving exposed only the eyes and nostrils.
Nimrod (Tauropanthera nimrod)
The nimrod is an Asian cousin of the cheetaur, but unlike its African relative, the nimrod is a pack-hunter which relies more on cooperation and endurance than explosive speed.
Jungle Pantherbull (Tauropanthera chloropardalis)
Discovered back in 2006 by Specbiologists on an expedition into Spec's Congo Basin, the jungle pantherbull is the chief predator of this shadowy realm. Light, greyish brown with a milange of black and dark green spots in complex patterns, it merges nearly invisibly into the dark jungle. It has shorter legs than most other cursorial pantherbulls, but it can run quickly and powerfully through the thick undergrowth. It is six metres long and three quarters of a ton in weight. Its primary prey are forest saurolopes and jackalopes, even young gorillabirds. It almost completely lacks cranial ornamentation.
Bobtaur Pantherbull (Tauropanthera cristata)
The bobtaur pantherbull is a small pantherbull, about 3 to 4 m long, that inhabits the midslopes and valleys of the Atlas range in northern Africa. While the caped molok would find the nooks and crannies of this upthrusted earth impassible for its hunting method, the bobtaur makes use of rocks, bush and trees to ambush its prey, the various herbivorous and carnivorous denizens smaller than it, in short powerful bursts of speed that quite often end in a kill.
Classification of the bobtaur is rife with dispute as this animal, with its stocky build and crested snout, is for some sufficiently derived to warrant the animal its own genus, Atlataurus, while others noting that the general body proportions are reminiscent of Tauropanthera, see it as another member of the African/Middle-Eastern radiation of the genus, thus giving it the scientific name Tauropanthera cristata.
What can be said for certain is that this species has toughed it out in the varying climate of the last 5 million years as fossils found in talus and alluvial fans attest to. So one can argue that the stocky build that, while making it shorter in length than the basal cheetaur, actually renders the bobtaur heavier, was developed to cope with the cooler mountain climate. The less cursorial proportions of the leg have to do with the bolting technique needed to capture prey in the short range one can run without tripping up on some random object. The crest being subtly colored is an obvious display structure and males will gather on a few valleys and distribute themselves along the slopes during breeding season to strut their stuff.
Black Beast (Nigertherium aarghium)
The low, menacing roar of a black beast declaring the boundaries of its vast territory can often be heard over the African plains. One the largest land-carnivores on the planet, if not the largest carnivore in Africa growing to 12 meters long, the black beast (Nigertherium aarghium) is surpassed in size only by the imperial sabre-tyrant.
Black beasts will consume any meat they can find, relying on dogged persistence rather than speed to exhaust faster-moving prey, which they will ruthlessly pursue for days on end. They will also drive smaller predators away from their kills...gladly eating the smaller predators if they stand and fight.
Various species of priscataur can be found throughout continental Africa all the way to southeastern Asia, but the black beast is the bulkiest of these predators.
Ravana (Nigertherium rakasha)
Named after the terrible demon king of Indian mythology, the ravana (Nigertherium rakasha) is the most fearsome theropod of India, or at least the ugliest. Although, at 9 meters in length, this monster is not quite as large as its African cousin, the black beast, it is nevertheless the biggest, meanest beast in its neighborhood. This solitary predator is not known for its speed, and mainly hunts slower prey, such as undaurs and their young. However, like its African relative, the ravana prefers to steal the meal of the day from smaller predators such as indomoloks or drakhans.
Fiercely territorial, ravanas often engage in extremely violent battles with members of their own species. As a result, all adult ravanas bear numerous scars as reminders of past battles won and lost. It is not unusual to see ravanas missing either or even both of their small flipper-like forelimbs, though such individuals seem to fare less well in competition over the females. The intraspecific fighting seems to weed out weak individuals, and may serve as a mechanism for controlling ravana populations.
Tarasque (Priscataurus eximius)
Also known as a qinlong, the tarasque (Priscataurus eximius), growing up to 9 meters long, is the confusingly-named largest carnivore in a huge swath of forest and jungles that extends from what would be Bangladesh through southern China to Thailand, with smaller subspecies probably dwelling in mainland Malaysia. Named early in the history of Spec exploration by French biologists, the tarasques have been stuck with their culturally incorrect common name ever since, and the proposed alternate name "qinlong" has come to mean an adult male tarasque.
Tarasques may hunt in packs, but usually they forage alone, ambushing large prey and actively pursuing smaller beasts. Their principal prey are the cenoceratopsians, creatures like the undaur and the balundaur whose principal means of defense is their enormous bulk. Tarasques are therefore much larger and more heavily-built than nian, relying on sheer mass to topple and dispatch one of the mighty ceratopsians.
Although their size is impressive, it is the distinctive call of this species that is its principle claim to fame. The females emit infrasound when in rut, whereas the qinlong have a menacing thunder-like roar used to boundary the territory and consequently to attract females. The cacophony that results is unforgettable.
Great Beast of Samos (Samostherium neadesi)
When spec-explorers began to explore the Mediterranean islands, they found many diverse creatures. one of the more intimidating creatures they discovered was the "great beast of Samos", Samostherium neadesi. This pygmy priscataur is one of the most widespread theropod predators, found on Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Crete and Cyprus, as well as the tiny island of Samos, which is an oddity in regards to distribution.
Named after the neades, the great beasts claimed to inhabit Samos by the ancient Greeks, this animal lives up to its mythical namesakes. averaging roughly 2 meters tall, and nearly 4.5 meters long. This species has lost some of its ancestors' ferocious appearance, becoming almost comical when viewed at a distance. its legs and feet are oversized for its body, and its head has a large "bump" over its snout; the enlarged snout is lined with many blood vessels which warm air as it inhales, possibly as an adaptation to the cooler climate of the Mediterranean and to the recent ice ages. The Samostherium has a very loud roar due to the resonating effect of the nasal enlargement, and it employs this noisemaking ability to mark its territory and to warn off any rivals.
A predator like Samostherium living on the island of Samos was unexpected, as the island is tiny, hardly the place you would expect such an animal to survive. The animals on Samos are roughly half the size of those on Crete or Sicily, and live off a very different diet. Large herbivores are non-existent on the island, and the predators live off a diet of mostly mammals, shorebirds, small reptiles and the occasional fish. One theory to explain this odd discovery is that the islands of the Aegean were colonized via currents from the larger islands, and the tiny predators evolved to adapt to the highly restricted sources of food. The theory also postulates that when the island of Thera erupted that the seismic and tidal disruptions, combined with the ashfall from the volcano, caused an extinction on most of the Aegean islands, killing Samostherium off. Samos' heavy forests allowed Samostherium to survive there. Recently there has been pressure to classify the tiny Samostherium of Samos as a separate species from Samostherium neadesi, owing to its small size and distinct diet and behavior.
These small, scaly predators have survived to the present day, and live in Africa and Madagascar.
- Brian Choo, Daniel Bensen, Tiina Aumala, João Boto, and David Marjanović
,=N. rakshasa (Ravana) ,=Nigertherium=| ,=| `=N. aarghium (Black beast) | | | `=Priscataurus eximius (Tarasque) | ,=Priscatauridae=| ,=A. diabolus (Horned molok) | | ,=| | | ,=Afromoloch=| `=A.colarus (Caped molok) | | | | | `=| `=A. indus (Asura) | | ,=Abelisauridae=| | ,=T. atrox (Greater) pantherbull) | | | ,=| | | | | `=T. nimrod (Nimrod) | | `=Tauropanthera=| | | `=T. velox (Cheetaur) | |
=Abelisauroidea=| |=â€ Carnotaurus sastrei
| | | `=â€ Abelisaurus comahuensis | `=Noasauridae