Writer in Residence – How the Elephant almost became a whale by Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss resumes his Writer in Residence duties today and will be writing an exclusive post for the blog once a month.. In addition Paul will be writing the monthly gardening column. This will not be a calendar to plant your bulbs by, but a look at some of the exotics you can grow in your garden or greenhouse, and other interesting snippets that will as always with Paul, make the column Unique..

In the meantime… I know exactly how I turned into a whale over Christmas.. but some creatures took millions of years to achieve that level of mammothness….. the elephant, if not a quirk of evolution might also have ended up there too.

How the Elephant almost became a whale by Paul Andruss

In the Elephant’s Child (Just So Stories) Rudyard Kipling told how the elephant got his trunk. Once the elephant had a bulgy nose; big as a boot. The trunk came about because the Elephant’s child, full of ‘satiatable curosity’, asked the crocodile, in an ill-judged moment, what he ate for dinner.

Just So Stories- Rudyard Kipling (Penguin Classics)

‘I think I’ll begin with Elephant’s child,’ said the Crocodile seizing his nose.

The Elephant’s child pulled and pulled to get free. The crocodile pulled and pulled to get dinner. All the while the Elephant’s nose stretched longer and longer until by the time he escaped it was a trunk.

On the face of it, my tale of how the elephant almost became a whale seems just as fantastical. But it’s true.

It all starts, O Best Beloved, in the High and Far-Off Times of the Triassic. Some 230 million years past, little lizards ran around on their hind legs (they would grow up to be dinosaurs) eating little mouse-like mammals (who grew up to become us: among other things). Due to the way they extracted water from their waste products in that hot thirsty desert world, dinosaurs won the race and dominated for 140 million years until a meteor ended their reign. Because mammals were tiny and lived underground, they survived.

And so 65 million years ago the Age of Mammals dawned. Although the tiny creatures looked like mice or rats, O Best Beloved, they had been evolving for 140 million years.

Despite looking all the same, they were no more related to each other than we are to a rhinoceros.

Given I have about 500 words left before everyone loses interest, I better drop the Kipling shtick and get on with it. Remember, if you’re flummoxed by unpronounceable names, do what I do: ignore them and look at the pictures.

World about 60 million years ago (paleomaps.com)

For 25 million years after the dinosaurs, England and North America were as hot and humid as South East Asia. There were no ice caps and sea levels were around 500 feet higher than today. One group had already started to evolve hooves rather than claws.

These became the most successful animals on the planet. Today, if we think of them at all, we think of two groups:

The hugely successful group consisting of pigs, cows, sheep, giraffes, camels, antelope, deer and hippos: it even produced whales. (DNA shows whales are most closely related to the hippopotamus.)

Ariodactyls (even-toed hoofed animals)

Early on it had a go at carnivores too, resulting in the largest ever meat-eater Andrewsarchus. (Definitely a sheep in wolf’s clothing.)

Andrewsarchus (with outlines to show scale) (dinoanimals.com)

Their cousins were initially successful, but today only horses, rhinos and tapirs survive.

Perissodactyls (odd-toed hoofed animals)

Once they included bizarre chalicotheres, huge brontotheres and a gigantic rhinoceros; the largest land mammal that ever lived.

Chalicotheres (Walking with Beasts BBC)

(BBC Walking with Beasts)

Huge rhinoceros Indricothere (BBC Walking with Beasts)

There were two other branches. One in South America now sadly extinct (I’ll save those for another time). The last group was in Africa.

In the Age of Dinosaurs the huge Southern continent of Gondwana (South America, Africa, Antarctica and Australian started to break up. Africa became an island for over 20 million years until land bridges formed.

5 million years ago Africa crashed into Europe creating the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. As Africa continues colliding with Europe, the Mediterranean will become mountains high as the Himalayas.

Mammals we think are African are not: lions and cats, wild dogs, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, zebras, warthogs, buffalos, hyenas, antelopes, monkeys and apes. They are immigrants. Only elephants evolved in Africa.

Elephant relatives are an odd bunch you probably never heard of. Elephants’ closest living relative is the rabbit-sized hyrax.

Hyrax- the elephant’s closest living relative (focusonwildlife.com)

There are 2 rare fossils from animals living 60 million years ago in coastal swamps that are now Moroccan Desert. Even through these fox sized creatures look the same (like a hyrax) they show the group had already spilt.

Ocepeia: 60 million year old ancestor of elephants and all their relatives
(Charléne Letenneur)

Insect eating Elephants? Aardvark, 8: tenric, 3: Elephant Shrew, 5: Golden mole
(Adapted from Wikipedia)

Ocepeia’s descendants became insect eaters, golden moles, tenrics, the so called elephant shrews and the aardvark. Eritherium descendants became elephants, hyraxes and their relatives. Not all Hyraxes were cute and bunny sized. Some were big as hippos.

Fossil Hyraxes (© Princeton Guide to Prehistoric Animals)

Four million years later the dog-sized Phosphatherium was the direct ancestor of the elephant side of the family.

Phosphatherium (Wikipedia)

Here are some of the weird and wonderful shapes elephants took: the hippo-like Moeritherium, the shovel jawed Platybelodon and Dinotherium.

(BBC Walking with Beasts)

Platybelodon (by N Tamura Deviant art)

(BBC Walking with Beasts)

The Elephant Family tree (Source: Q files)

Relatives include the extinct strange rhino like Arsinoitherium.

(BBC Walking with Beasts)

And the Manatee

Manatee or Sea Cow (Factzoo)

Some 50 million years ago came the first ancestor of the sea cow: something you are more likely to see in Florida than Africa.

Prorastomus lived in Jamaica having travelled from Africa along the European and American coastlines through tropical seas stretching into the Artic. Because North and South America were not connected by Central America sea cows moved into the Pacific up to Alaska.

Prorastomus (By Nobu Tamura- Wikipedia)

During the Ice Age they got bigger in order to cope with the cold: just like whales. At 30 foot long Steller’s Sea Cow was the largest. It survived until the 1768, when it was hunted to extinction, in 26 years, for its oil rich fat.

Steller’s Sea Cow (© Princeton Guide to Prehistoric Animals)

And that O Best Beloved is how the elephant almost became a whale… until we killed it. 

©Paul Andruss 2018.

Only Paul Andruss could take us on a journey across millions of years and leave us better informed than we were at the beginning.. my one concern was that I leave an image out and we would have all taken a different path in our evolution…..

About Paul Andruss.

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul Andruss is the author of 2 contrasting fantasy novels

Thomas the Rhymer – a magical fantasy for ages 11 to adult about a boy attempting to save fairy Thomas the Rhymer, while trying to rescue his brother from a selfish fairy queen

When Fairy Queen Sylvie snatches his brother, schoolboy Jack is plunged into a sinister fantasy world of illusion and deception – the realm of telepathic fairies ruled by spoilt, arrogant fairy queens.

Haunted by nightmares about his brother and pursued by a mysterious tramp (only seen by Jack and his friends) Jack fears he too will be stolen away.

The tramp is Thomas the Rhymer, who only speaks in rhyme. Lost and frightened Thomas needs Jack’s help to find his way home.

The race is on for Jack and his friends to save Thomas from the wicked Agnes Day (who wants to treat Thomas like a lab rat). And save Jack’s brother from Sylvie.
To do this they need the help of Bess – the most ancient powerful fairy queen in the land.
But there is a problem…
No one knows where Bess is… or even if she is still lives.
And even if they find her… will she let them go?

Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thomas-Rhymer-Jack-Hughes-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00EPQL7KC

Finn Mac CoolFinn Mac Cool – rude, crude and funny, Finn Mac Cool is strictly for adults only.

When the fairy folk deliver a soldier called Finn (the first outsider in plague-stricken Ireland for a decade) Erin believes he is Finn Mac Cool – returned to kill the tyrant King Conor Mac Nessa of Ulster. and free Great Queen Maeve – Ireland’s true ruler & Erin’s dying mother.

The druids kidnap Finn – planning to turn him into the hero Finn Mac Cool – who will save the world by destroying it.

Erin goes in looking for Finn – so he can kill Conor Mac Nessa before her mother’s dream of a free Ireland dies with her.

Erin’s quest draws her ever-deeper into Ireland’s ancient mythological landscape; a place…
… Where dream and reality merge
… Where a man’s fate is written fifteen hundred years before he was born
… Where books are legends & a library a myth
… Where people hate Christians for defying the gods
… Where phony druids use real magic

Find out more and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Finn-Mac-Cool-Paul-Andruss-ebook/dp/B018OJZ9KY

and Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Finn-Mac-Cool-Paul-Andruss-ebook/dp/B018OJZ9KY

Currently for a limited period Thomas the Rhymer is FREE to download via Paul’s website. It would be a great service if you could download the book and review and put it on Amazon and Goodreads.

Connect to Paul on social media.

Blog: http://www.paul-andruss.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.andruss.9
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Paul_JHBooks
Google+  https://plus.google.com/s/+jackhughesbooks


108 thoughts on “Writer in Residence – How the Elephant almost became a whale by Paul Andruss

  1. Dear Sally, you can breath easy, you didn’t miss out any illustrations. You did a beautiful job and full justice to both evolution and more importantly me!!! Love Pxxx

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A fascinating post, Paul and Sally. I did not know that the dinosaur’s extracted water from their own waste. Now for a question: Was there an England during the time when there were no ice-caps or was this island under water to emerge later [I ask this as we are busy melting the ice-caps as fast as we can and I wonder if the island nations like the UK and Japan could survive this]?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Robbie, about 400 million years ago England crashed into Scotland (they’d been separate until then) which threw up mountains – and left us Scots with a very long-held grudge and the firm belief we should, in fact, be separate! 🙂 Not quite the answer to your question but thought I’d share this little nugget.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Robbie.. So much to say… (as always!!!) Birds are descendants of dinosaurs and they process waste the same way by extracting water and having one highly concentrated waste product… think of bird pooh on the car.. instead of two like us.
      Here is a you-tube link of the world after the ice melts. https://youtu.be/pIxRVfCpA64
      The Cape region is quite high- actually Africa is the highest continent in the world (general landmass)- so will not be much affected. But Britain will become a set of islands and large parts of Japan will go. It is estimated sea level will rise about 300+ feet initially taking out most of our farm land and cities. (Check out China on the link)
      At current rates it will take about 1,000 years for the ice to melt. But before then we might plunge into a 1,000 long mini Ice Age. It happened before. It’s called the Younger Dryas. (Watch this space.) and caused by dense cold water flooding the oceans.
      After another thousand years or so, the larger oceans will absorb heat. As warm water is lighter than cold… the seas will rise again – anything between another 300 to 600 feet.
      Just in case you are not depressed enough, the sea bed contains huge amounts of methane hydrate from all those millions of years of decaying sea creatures. It is held stable currently but with warmer seas it might boil off, which is will be catastrophic to sea life. Plus methane is a more intense greenhouse gas so the world will become hotter.
      We think the climate we have to day is normal, It’s not. Climates fluctuate between hot house… South east Asian Jungles at the poles and ice box… Siberian Steppe over most of America, Europe and Australia. Our civilisations have arisen in a short relatively quiet time. For most of our time on earth we lived during an ice age…Europe was uninhabitable and Ice was a mile thick outside London (Remember Thomas the Rhymer and what Catherine said about neanderthals).
      I could go on but I wont. So to answer your other question. Britain looked nothing like today 50 million years ago. There was a lot of volcanic activity as we split away from America opening up the north Atlantic… Creating the Giant’s Causeway and Iceland (A geological hot spot like Hawaii). We know Oxford was above water but swampy because we have fossilbeds from that time. A lot of the southern states of the USA were underwater (Fantastic beasts and where to find them – basilosaurus post) because they find early whale bones there and in Egypt.
      England and Europe is rising because Africa is smashing into us at the same rate your fingernails grow. If you want to look at the future in about 25 million years look at India. It was an island and when I crashed into Asia, it closed a world wide sea (the Tethys) and caused the Himalayas and Tibet. Sea salt and fish fossils are found on top of Everest.
      I hope you are suitably boggled by the answer! Love Px

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a read of immense proportion. One of the facts that jumped out at me was the name of the great Southern continent – Gondwana – reminding me of an express train by the same name I traveled on a few years ago in India. Thanks for the read, Paul and Sally. Starting the year out in great style.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Well!! You live and learn.Having taken this in (mostly) I’ve marked this post as unread for the time being. I need time to absorb some of the facts. They are all facts, aren’t they Paul? You have to admit you do write ‘tongue in cheek’ sometimes. The illustrations are brilliant. Thanks both.xx

    Liked by 3 people

    • Honestly Judith.. Guilty as charged.. I do joke around but never about history or evolution. There are too many clowns doing that already! (Seven days my foot!) No all the facts are true and in a true order as much as I could make them without turning the post into a University text book.
      DNA analysis shows the relationships in the elephant family and whales to pigs and hippos.
      Continental drift was proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912 (The most popular test is to look at how Africa fits into South America like a jigsaw puzzle- Gondwana!)
      For about a hundred years before people had noticed animals and fossils and Geological rock formations cropped up in American and Asia and Europe and Africa and South America but could not explain how. (see Mary’s comment above). The illustrations are not mine but from BBC’s Walking with Beasts- a brilliant show. I just superimposed Human outlines to show the size of the animals.
      Glad you like the post Judith PXX

      Liked by 3 people

    • You know Shey you are spot on about the dwarf elephants in Mediterranean. It is amazing how life finds ways to adapt so relatively and quickly. That is something I would have loved to have seen as it is only something I have read about. PXXX

      Liked by 2 people

    • You know what Janet you are so right – evolution has in the past and continuing to be more amazing and unbelievable that anything us talented bunch of writers would dare to dream up.. partly because we think our readers would laugh at us. I have been wracking my brains for an example and 11 is slime moulds. Single celled organisms that under circumstances group together and behave as 1 creature… Really look them up they are unbelievable! Thanks for you insightful comment. Paul

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay, Paul, you lost me. If the elephant evolved in Africa, how did it almost become a whale? I must be missing something here. Maybe it’s because I was preoccupied with looking at the pictures and ignoring the big words 🙂 That aside, this post is amazing ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Glad you enjoyed it Tina but sorry I lost you. Elephants belong to a unique group of African hoofed animals. An elephant cousin took to the sea to become manatees and sea cows.. like whales they lost their hind legs and cannot leave the water at all.
      Due to climate change one of the sea cows that today live in Florida and Caribbean (but not Africa) lived off Alaska and started to grow large as the oceans cooled. Because of they way they evolved in the same environment, they look so similar you might think Whales and Sea Cows were relatives, but in fact they are no more related to each other than we are to squirrels.
      The post played on the Old Rudyard Kipling children’s stories about how animals develop. Basically it was about how although two animals looking very different they are related, while those who look similar are not at all related. In the past we made some strange assumptions on what looked right
      eg Elephants were classed as relatives of rhinos and hippos because all 3 have thick skin whereas DNA shows all 3 belong to entirely different groups (African, even toes and odd toed animals).
      Looking at an elephant and the whale-like sea cow you would never think the two could be related until you begin to look at the fossil evidence and see how they diverged through small steps on separate paths over 10s of millions of years.
      Plus it was an excuse to get some brilliant pictures of extinct animals in!
      Evolution is something I am fascinated by.. and as they say.. write about what you know…I was hoping it would fascinate other people too. Pxx

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Fascinating, Paul. I love the long line of evolution and how every creature that exists today is the progeny of successful generations going all the way back to the primordial soup. I like thinking that my ancestors were initially bacteria (sort of). Ha ha. And learning about how animals are related… including to us. Finally, Just So Stories were a staple in our house when I was a kid – You evoked wonderful memories. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. That is a really fascinating story, Paul and Sally. I love the fact that the elephant’s closest relative is that cute little hyrax creature, it just doesn’t seem possible. It also seems weird that we evolved from little mice like creatures, I personally resemble the hippo more than a mouse!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Elephants and Whales, Blogging Watering Hole, Music and Funnies | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  9. Pingback: How the Whale Became ← Odds n Sods: A cabinet of curiosities

  10. Fascinating post, Paul and Sally! Thank you for sharing. I heard of this series, Walking With, but never saw it. May have to check it out if we have it here in the USA. Best wishes in 2018! Hugs & 😘 Sally!

    Liked by 2 people

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