ROLL THE BONES 


A newfound ancient sea creature looks to be part crocodile, part T. rex and 100 percent terrifying. The 13-foot long beast, Dakosaurus andiniensis, had a massive 18-inch-long jaw with interlocking 4-inch teeth. It is a long-lost relative of the crocodile, yet it had fins. The sheer strangeness of the Dakosaurus andiniensis, found in South America and announced today, led its discoverers to call it Godzilla, after the huge, amphibious, dinosaur-like movie icon.
MSNBC.com, Nov. 11, 2005

Last week's discovery was fascinating, all right, but it wasn't the first instance of scientists naming a newly discovered species after a 'huge movie icon.' A sampling:

Late in 1979, archaeologists working in an inactive Japanese volcano uncovered a fossil of a turtle-like creature now believed to have roamed the Earth 8 billion years B.C.E. Careful examination of the artifact revealed that the species had sported a tough, leathery hide; loose, lolling limbs; a razor-sharp underbite; and eyes that never seemed to focus on anything in particular. The research team christened their discovery Toho extraneous, which is Latin for 'monster of secondary importance.' Its swiftly adopted nickname, 'Gamera,' reflected its perceived defensive habit of spinning around in a circle and shooting flames out of its shell – often while smaller and weaker animals sang cloying melodies of encouragement.

At the close of the 20th century, the scientific world was rocked by the discovery of Elmus nightmarus, a fierce predator that used its grotesque countenance and the knife-like protrusions that extended from its knuckles to bedevil early man. Attacking at night while our superstitious ancestors dreamed their nonsensical dreams, the so-called 'Freddy' ruled the landscape through a combination of fear-mongering and a penchant for coining irresistible catchphrases. Initial theories indicated that the species had died out after losing a centuries-long battle with natural enemy Voorheesis hockeymascus, a silent, lumbering killer. But modern thought suggests that both species fell victim to plain old overexposure, with their strikes against Cro-Magnon encampments ultimately occurring so frequently that their now-bored quarry simply learned to ignore them.

The prehistoric era's answer to the black widow, the Cleopatrus adulterous was a voracious man-eater that kept up its energy by wooing and devouring mate after mate – including some stolen from the nests of slower, less cunning creatures. Remains dug up just outside Cannes in 1994 demonstrated that this reptilian hussy – tagged 'Liz' for more than one good reason – possessed a keen hunter's instinct and eyes to die for, though its weak digestive system left it prone to choking on the bones of small flightless birds. In its later years, the species was known to gain copious amounts of weight and undermine itself by overindulging in the medicinal secretions of banyan trees. It also exercised poor judgment in deciding which other animals to take under its wing, opting to pal around with frail contemporaries that – despite their chameleonic ability to change color in times of crisis – showed a similar appetite for self-destruction.

Austria was the unlikely location of a 1987 dig that produced the first evidence of Terminatus republicanus, a savage hybrid of the slavering jackal and the brutish ape that's believed to have imposed its will on the wild for several centuries during the early Cretaceous. A real bully of a beast, the 'Arnie' was gifted with a freakishly overdeveloped musculature that helped it intimidate the bejesus out of its rivals, but its extreme tunnel vision made it essentially useless in situations that called for the slightest bit of finesse. This may be why it perennially found itself shadowed by Ishtarus sanctimonious (the 'Warren'), a nimble-minded pest that delighted in pointing out its confused victim's shortcomings.

Though it's impossible to confirm, scientists believe that the scrawny but vocal Poultrous diminutus became extinct when the sky fell on its head. Long after its passing, cleverer hominids continued to debate which had come first, the animal or the egg from whence it had hatched. As a result, one primitive forerunner of modern man, Falwellicus bellicosus, coined the theory of 'intelligent design' – which it supported by pointing out that diminutus had scared up more business in its first weekend on Earth than Evolution did in its entire run.

A raging libido was the distinguishing characteristic of Alficus erectus (the 'Jude'), a kind of feral rabbit whose withered remains were found in 2002 in Tunisia, facedown in the bones of other specimens. Diligent study has revealed that the frisky Jude was prone to join in any and all work projects undertaken by its tribe – activity that provided respectable cover for its ceaseless attempts to perform coupling rituals with willing and semiwilling partners (including, on occasion, members of the animal's own family). The species' other distinctive feature was a mating call that bore a peculiar phonetic resemblance to today's popular salutation, 'Stick it in anywhere!'

Buried deep in the soil of what we now know as California, the recently unearthed Gipperus senilicus provides a fascinating glimpse into a vanished era. A dinosaur when there still were dinosaurs, the 'Ronnie' was an unlikely leader among leviathans: Its brain was tiny even by the meager standards of its genus, and it had a tendency to forget where it had been almost as soon as it got there. Yet it seemed to lead a charmed life, allowing its soothing growl and amiable demeanor to carry it places more sophisticated reptiles couldn't reach. The animal had a knack for avoiding punishment for the damage it tended to wreak on its environment, and for taking credit for milestones it had little to do with – like vanquishing enemies that had actually become exhausted while foraging for food. Some scientists believe we are still paying a price for the carte blanche that an awed world once granted the Ronnie, but you can bet the farm its scaly face ends up on the $10 bill someday, anyway.

sschneider@orlandoweekly.com

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