Weekly Spotlight: Barylambda

19 06 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

Last December, as part of a week-long posting extravaganza, I lent the coverage of a “Weekly Spotlight”-style entry to the superficially hippo-like  Coryphodon sp., a pantodont of the North American and European Eocene whose appearance and, in all probability, lifestyle superficially resembled those of extant hippos. In that article, I showcased the considerable range of pantodont diversity by including the following illustration in which the semiaquatic beast is perched at the top:

Restorations of some pantodonts of the North American Paleocene. A. Coryphodon. B. Barylambda. C Titanoides primaevus. D. Caenolambda. E. Pantolambda cavirictus. E. Pantolambda bathmodon. (Courtesy of paleocene-mammals.de)

This week, the sights shall be set just a wee bit lower and, consequently, we’ll discuss the creature immediately below the aforementioned Coryphodon. Barylambda sp. (a genus which contains three known species: B. faberi, B. jackwilsoni, & B. churchilli) was an equally bizarre Paleocene beast whose form and habits were similarly analagous to a subsequent group of well-known mammals: in this case, the famed giant ground sloths of the Americas.

Once again, special thanks go to regular reader Doug for the image!

For those interested in acquiring a quick read concerning the evolution and diversity of pantodonts, please consult the link provided in the opening paragraph. With regards to the purposes of this post, however, some additional taxonomic information must be discussed. Barylambda serves as the namesake genus of the Barylambdidae family whose constituents are known for exhibiting (among others) the following characteristics:

-Robust zygomatic arches which don’t flare outward.

-Long coronoid processes.

-Relatively small heads in comparison to overall body size.

-Unfused scaphoids and centrals.

-Short phalanges… ungual phalanges fissured.

-Long and heavy tails with weight-bearing modifications.

-Enormous pelvises which similarly exhibit graviportal morphologies.

The latter pair of characters (along with the Barylambdids’ noticeably elongated skulls and overall size: the largest individuals reached 2.5 meters in length and weighed approximately 650 kg) are chiefly responsible for the hypothesis which maintains that Barylambda and its kin inhabited the niche which would later be occupied by ground sloths and chalicotheres. As in their xenarthran counterparts, barylambdids almost certainly utilized their powerfully built hindlimbs and muscular tails to enable temporary periods of bipedal locomotion, which would have allowed these beasts to browse on high vegetation in a dietary style which had theoretically remained unseen in nature since the extinction of the therizinosauridae over 10 million years earlier.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!




2 responses

22 06 2010

Ah, Barylambda. A name i’m very familiar with. When i was a kid, i had this little book on prehistory that had barylambda as one of the mammals. Not sure what happened to that book though.

Try the picture i sent you.

23 06 2010

Thanks once again for an awesome photo!

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