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Science & Environment

Before Humans Showed Up, Huge Animals Were The Norm

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, often here at MORNING EDITION we just like to check in with some of our colleagues around the building and see what they've been thinking about. Science reporter Adam Cole is here and, Adam, I understand you have been thinking a lot about prehistoric monsters.

ADAM COLE, BYLINE: That's right. In Earth's ancient history, there have been a lot of giant animals that cropped up from time to time. For example, there was a sloth in South America that weighed four tons.

GREENE: Ooh.

COLE: Looked like a giant grizzly bear - things like that.

GREENE: They actually existed - these are giant versions of animals that we know of today.

COLE: These really - these walked the Earth, yeah.

GREENE: OK. And what exactly - I mean, just curious - what exactly got you interested in thinking about this stuff?

COLE: Well, it seems like every few years another one of these things is discovered. Like, they just found a giant rat that's sort of the size of a horse. So after a while, I had collected a little menagerie of these giant animals, and I decided to put them together into a poem.

GREENE: This was your science curiosity being sort of triggered...

COLE: That's right, yeah, yeah.

GREENE: ...And your poetry side.

COLE: It happens all the time (laughter) yeah.

GREENE: OK, so do you want to tell me about this poem?

COLE: Well, let's just listen to it.

GREENE: We can listen to it. OK.

COLE: Yeah, I made it into an animated video.

GREENE: Nice.

COLE: And here we go.

GREENE: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "12 ANCIENT GIANTS")

COLE: (Singing) A capybara's now the largest rodent on the planet. But Earth once housed the mighty mouse 10 times more titanic. With 12-inch-long incisors, J. monesi wins the prize. It truly was a rodent of a most unusual size.

GREENE: Adam, that is truly weird...

COLE: Yep (laughter).

GREENE: ...And very scary.

COLE: (Laughter).

GREENE: And I like how you showed little versions of humans to show how their size compared.

COLE: Scale reference.

GREENE: What happened to all these giant animals?

COLE: Well, they all went extinct at some point, except for the blue whale, which, of course, is still living among us.

GREENE: Still around - the one giant still around.

COLE: The one giant still around.

GREENE: Where can people find that video if they want to check it out?

COLE: You can head over to our YouTube channel. That's YouTube.com/skunkbear. We've also got a Tumblr, and it'll be on the website, too.

GREENE: And Skunk Bear is the Tumblr and YouTube channel for our science desk.

COLE: That's right.

GREENE: Fantastic - science reporter Adam Cole, thank you.

COLE: Thank you.

GREENE: Keep thinking about weird stuff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.