What, I must be retained by the boundaries of the Mesozoic? No, no, no, no, no, no. If something had prehistoric animals in it, it’s fair game. And this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
Now, I’ll make something perfectly clear. I’m not very proud of my review of Walking With Dinosaurs, this show’s predecessor. I couldn’t find any full episodes online and I don’t have the funds to go buy a copy, so I had to write it down using information from Youtube clips, Wiki summaries, and memories. With that happening, I got some information wrong, which really annoys me to this day. However, I’ve seen the full episodes of this series recently, and I feel I am ready to review!!!
Walking With Beast, as mentioned earlier, is a sequel series to the massively popular Walking With Dinosaurs. Much like WwD, this series uses CGI to bring prehistoric animals to life in a documentary style. The difference is that instead of using dinosaurs, we are now focusing on the time after them; The Cenozoic, the Age of Mammals.
Looking at those Charles Knight restorations of Cenozoic animals reminded me how much I loved these creatures, and inspired me to go ahead and review this awesome show. Now, without further hesitation, let’s get right into it!!
Our first episode takes place in the Eocene, a mere stones throw away from the extinction of the dinosaurs (16 million years, really). Mammals are still rather small, but they have since diversified one freed from their dinosaur overlords. The first new mammal we see is a cute little Leptictidium.
Awww, it’s like a mix between a mouse, a kangaroo, and an elephant.
And yes, this guy was on Jimmy Neutron.
Is it weird that as a kid I heard about this creature BEFORE Jimmy Neutron?
These little critters are shown to be active hunters, taking down little bugs, lizards, and assorted other morsels. However, they were pretty low on the food chain according to the show, and had to be on constant alert of Gastornis.
Six foot turkey.
Gastornis is shown being a vicious predator of small mammals, ripping and tearing them apart like the terror birds of the future. It’s sharp, heavy beak would seem to be evidence of such behavior. However, scientist are now almost certain that Gastornis was actually exclusively a herbivore. Several factors of information came into making this conclusion, from the beak shape, to the lack of claws, to the amount of calcium in its bones. So, in the end, it turns out Gastornis was nothing but a big ostrich.
But giant killer birds aren’t the only thing Leppy has to worry about. No, she also has to worry about crocodile-otter-whales.
Apparently, Avatar The Last Airbender took place in the Eocene.
This lovely little fellow is the Ambulocetus, an early variation of whale before they took to the sea permanently. It’s really an odd-looking creature. They present it acting like a mammalian crocodile, up to even having sprawled legs and making crocodilian bellows and hisses. I find this behavior somewhat unlikely, and think this creature lived more like a sea lion then a crocodile. But I don’t know, heck no one does. The thing about making a documentary of now extinct creatures is that you’ll have to make a lot of speculations for narrative purposes, something I’ll touch upon more later.
Anyway, the Ambulocetus is shown as an ambush predator, taking down any mammal that comes near its jaws. Whether this behavior actually occurred is anyone’s guess. Personally, I like to think that this guy was an exclusive fish eater, but like I said, I don’t know. This is a very hard animal to visualize.
The other little mammals both Gastornis and Ambulocetus like to munch on are Propalaeotherium; and if we’re still going with the Last Airbender theme, it’s basically a horse-bunny.
These cute little things are basically walking Red Shirts, living only to be killed by the predators. Although Leppy seems to have some cunning and intelligence, these guys basically walk around saying ‘EAT ME’. Heck, in one scene, they even get drunk on fermented berries. Guess what happens.
The last major animal we see is the prehistoric primate Godintonia.
Now, as with most prehistoric primates, we only have fragmentary remains if this guy (jaw bones, as per usual). That means we don’t know exactly how this creature looked like. Here it looks very much like a modern monkey, although some would argue it should look more like a lemur or even a bush baby, but we really don’t know. If it were up to me, however, I probably would have gone with a more lemur like look.
For Disney’s sake.
Mammals and birds aren’t the only creatures we focus on in this episode, however. We also meet some, of all things, insects. Meet Titanomyrma.
The ants go marching one by one, horrah, horrah…
Now, what’s so noteworthy about an ant? These guys don’t seem that different from the ones today. Well, as it turns out, this species of ant was the largest to ever live. How big did they get?
JESUS!!! And I thought fire ants were bad!!
So yeah, ants the size of hummingbirds. I would say that’s noteworthy enough to be included.
The next episode also takes place in the Eocene, but ten million years after the events of the first episode. The world has changed massively. The great forests of the first episode have parted away and replaced with open field, Mammals are also now bigger and more dominant. Not only that, but our friend Ambulocetus has grown up too. He is no longer a furry crocodile. Oh no, he is now a dragon.
They grow up so fast.
No kidding, this is only ten million years, a mere blink of an eye in the geological time scale. Just ten million years before Basilosaurus whales looked like this!!!
One answer: steroids.
Anyway, Basilosaurus is portrayed as a formidable sea monster, much like Walking With Dinosaurs portrayed Liopleurodon. They are on the top of the food chain and is even shown throwing around sharks in the beginning of the episode, much like how Lio threw around that dinosaur in the beginning of his episode. I see why they would portray him like this, though. It is an incredible looking animal, very much like a sea dragon. In fact, it was originally thought to be a reptile when first discovered, thus the name Basilosaurus.
Even though Basil is at the top of her game, the show portrays the ocean ecosystem changing drastically due to climate change and the polar caps first appearing. It is shown that the whole world is struggling, on land and sea, and this brings animals together in places they would normally never meet.
Basilosaurus became somewhat famous because of this episode, but it wasn’t the only animal made popular by its appearance here. Another obscure animal brought into the lime light is Andrewsarchus.
This scary lookin’ guy was thought to be the largest terrestrial mammalian predator that has ever lived. It was six feet high at the shoulder and possibly weighed over 2,000 pounds. However, recent hypotheses have changed the way we view this animal. We always knew this guy was actually related to hoofed animals, but most reconstructions still made it out to be a wolf like creature. However, we now think that Andrewsarchus actually looked more like a pig (the kind of pig we’ll see later in this post). So, instead of being a hoofed wolf, it was a carnivorous swine.
In the episode we are shown Andrewsarchus taking on a variety of prey, from a poor little sea turtle to the giant Brontotheres.
These rhino like animals are actually closer to horses than rhinoceros. They are also much larger than modern rhinos, rivaling the size of an elephant. The show also portrays them as not being too bright, to the point that a mother keeps protecting her deceased calf because she doesn’t comprehend that it’s dead. I think that’s a tiny bit unfair, as even the dumbest animals today still have enough instinct to distinguish a living thing to a dead one. However, I’m not sure.
While Andrewsarchus and Brontothere knock about on the land, Basilosaurus continues it’s search for prey by entering a lagoon. now, I know this is supposed to show the whale’s desperation by entering a completely foreign environment in search of prey, but I find this as likely as a killer whale coming into the Everglades. However, it does put her into contact with some interesting creatures, including some Apidium, a cute little prehistoric monkey that I’m pretty sure is just a recolored Godintonia model.
Spared no expense.
She also comes across some weird pig like water animals called Moeritherium, a relative of the elephant and the sea cow.
They are shown to be somewhat fearless, as the narrator says that they’re to big to be hunted by the normal threats of crocodiles and sharks. However, they are caught off guard by the Basilosaurus. And why wouldn’t they? How would a hippo feel if suddenly an orca started hunting it from out of nowhere?
Unfortunately for Basil, she isn’t successful in hunting the Moeritherium. She does, however, get a saving grace in the form of a pod of Dorudon.
Dorudon are basically smaller versions of Basilosaurus (they aren’t really small though, they’re still the size of killer whales). In the show, however, they are portrayed similarly to dolphins. I guess this makes sense, since dolphins in real life are about the most terrifying animals in the sea.
Don’t let Flipper fool you, dolphins are hard-core. Look it up.
Anyway, Basilosaurus goes on a killing spree destroying these Dorudon, absolutely destroying them. This saves her from starvation, and she is now able to take care of her calf. Hooray!!!
The next episode takes place in the Oligocene, about 25 million years ago. Now mammals on land have really started to get big, and the episode focuses on the biggest land mammal to ever live; Paraceratherium, the Indricothere.
Remember when I said Avatar The Last Airbender must take place in the Eocene? I was wrong, it took place in the Oligocene. For example, this creature is basically a rhino-giraffe. Paraceratherium (referred as an Indricothere in the episode) was an immensely large beast, An ancient relative of the rhino, this animal grew to be up to 20 feet tall. However, we aren’t fully sure of its exact size and weight because of incomplete skeletons. early estimates marked it as being much larger, and this series does take the slightly bigger yet still plausible estimates. It still would have dwarfed any modern day mammal, and the size would have even rivaled some of the larger dinosaurs. It really is an extraordinary beast.
However, this series does show some hypothetical behavior that I find questionable, like showing mother Indricothere’s chasing off and shunning calfs once they reach a certain age and Indricotheres smelling dung to tell each other apart. I don’t mind when a show like WwB does this (if a documentary of prehistoric life only showed information we could deduce from fossils, literally nothing would happen) but please make distinctions when you are presenting hypothetical behavior and don’t present them as fact.
The next animal we see is even stranger, the Chalicothere.
These weird animals are actually relatives of horses, but nothing like them lives today. It is depicted feeding like a gorilla or panda, using its claws to browse through the leaves of trees.
The predators of this world are just as strange. First we have the Hyaenodon.
These fearsome carnivores were as big as modern-day rhinos, and were among the largest mammalian predators to ever live. However, they had some major competition.
This is the animal Andrewsarchus actually looked like. Like I said, still scary. These carnivorous hogs were even scary enough to take on a Hyaenodon for a meal, which is strange seeing that we now consider pigs prey animals (Mmmm, bacon). But seriously, I think I would rather run into a sabre tooth tiger than one of these things.
We also get to see a bear dog.
No, not that kind of bear dog (sigh, the Avatar jokes just write themselves).
There are a couple of problems with the depiction, like how it is shown walking on its toes like a dog when it should be walking on its heals like a bear (hence the name bear dog). I also don’t really like the tail; it’s what I’m afraid foxes might be portrayed by future paleontologists. Just because it had a long and skinny tail didn’t mean it was bare. But then again, I have no evidence for either.
The next episode takes place in The Great Rift Valley in East Africa, 3 million years ago. The episode focuses on Australopithecus, a species of ape that walked upright.
Despite it’s human like appearance, it still only had the mental capacity of a chimpanzee. however, it was still the smartest being in it’s time, and the episode focuses on their intelligence aiding them in their harsh surroundings.
Once again, speculative behavior is shown regarding their social structures, but like I said a documentary with prehistoric animals without speculative behavior would be very boring. True, all this is to emphasis just how intelligent these creatures are. It is also shown that because of their upright stance, they have to….um….reproduce…..face to face, unlike any animal before it.
You know, every episode has a scene like this with the prehistoric CGI animals getting it on. I know it’s a documentary, but sometimes it feels like a soft core porn.
Anyway, we also get to see the various animals Australopithecus shares it’s habitat with. In many ways, it looks pretty similar to modern day Africa; with modern looking rhinos, jackals, zebras, vultures, and a mentioned ostrich. However, their are some key differences. The weird looking chalicotheres remain, with this species (called Ancylotherium) looking like a palette swapped version from the last episode.
Spared no expense.
Unfortunately, they are the last of their kind, and once they go extinct, so does their lineage of freaky looking gorilla horses. These creatures don’t pose any threat, however. The real dangers come from the gigantic prehistoric elephant Deinotherium.
This creature, whose name literally means “terrible beast”, was much larger than modern-day elephants based on the size of its skull. It also has its tusks protruding out of its chin, something scientists still aren’t can’t wrap their heads around. The episode portrays them as extremely aggressive, like modern elephants. One slight problem however is that the trunk is a bit too small. it was once thought that Deinotherium had a more primitive trunk than modern elephants, but we n=now see the problem with this. Deinotherium had very long legs for an elephant, but wouldn’t be able to bend them. If it didn’t have a long trunk, it couldn’t drink!
Predators in this ancient African savanna included Dinofelis, which means “terrible cat” (a lot of terrible creatures here, huh?).
This species of cat was a member of the sabre tooth family, although its long incisors were a lot less noticeable than it’s more famous cousins. They weren’t the largest of cats, about the size of a jaguar, but they were still formidable. It is shown being a hunter of apes, although some scientists question whether this animal fed on apes at all since pretty much all evidence points to it being mostly a feeder of grazing animals. The way I see it, even if they didn’t specialize in hunting monkeys, a predator would never turn down an opportunity for an easy meal.
In the next episode, we meet Dinofelis’ more famous relative. We now visit South America 1 million years ago, and focus on the kingdom of the infamous Sabre Tooth Tiger, Smilodon.
The Smilodon in this series are portrayed very similar to lions. Not only are they given a slight mane, but they are also portrayed with a social structure identical to a modern day pride. Even the main conflict of the episode is an old Smilodon being ran off from his pack from a pair of younger Smilodon, a plot ripped right from a National Geographic documentary. Whether they actually lived like this we aren’t sure, for all we know they lived a solitary life like tigers. But hey, it does make for an interesting conflict.
The Smilodons are also shown competing with one of my favorite prehistoric creatures, Phorusrhacos, the Terror Birds.
Now, I love this guy. I think he is so awesome. So it pains me to say that he shouldn’t be here. Phorusrhacos lived 12 million years ago, when this episode takes place 1 million years ago. Sure, it’s relative Titanis is terrorizing Florida at this time, but Phorusrhacos has been long gone by now. Many attribute the appearance of cats in the area for the Terror Bird’s extinction, which this series seems to support.
South America was filled with all sorts of weird creatures at the time, however. One such creature is the Smilodon’s favorite prey, Macrauchenia.
These creatures looked superficially like llamas and camels, but really have no living modern relatives. They had a small trunk, similar to a saiga antelope, and are shown living in herds.
Other weird animals include the Doedicurus, a creature less formally called a glyptodont. This animal was essentially a giant armadillo with a spiked tail club.
Yes, nature is very weird sometimes.
However, Megatherium probably takes the cake. It was a giant ground sloth the size of an elephant.
No, that’s not weird at all.
It is shown to be very powerful, like a grizzly bear on steroids. Some of the claims the show makes about the creature seem a bit off, however. At one point the narrator says that a series of small bones in it’s body acted like chain-mail, a claim I can’t find any evidence to back up. It is also shown attacking a pack of Smilodon to steal their kill for itself. While this behavior isn’t implausible, I think it was just added to make it look cooler, despite its fighting style being firmly within reason.
The last episode of the series deals with the most famous part of the Cenozoic: The Ice Age!!. Here we see humans deal with the dangers of this world, from the sub-zero cold to the gigantic mega-fauna; with the most famous being the Woolly Mammoth.
Ahh, the mammoth, every ones favorite prehistoric shaggy beast. They really are the face of the Ice Age, and that is no exception in this episode. The mammoths are about as perfect as they can be, magnificent in their size and power. They are portrayed with a similar social society as modern elephants, with herds being mostly female and males leaving once they hit puberty. Modern African elephants do this, but Asian Elephants don’t, so we can’t be for sure if mammoths did.
During the summer, we see a variety of grazers feeding on the summer grass. These include bison, antelope, and Megaloceras, the Irish Elk.
These prehistoric deer had huge antlers, each one as long as a man is tall. They are magnificent beasts, although they prove to be good prey for the humans. Hunting alongside them, however, is the Cave Lion.
Now, I’ll say this, this is the first time I’ve seen a white Cave Lion. Most restorations give them the same coloration as normal lions, but I like the creativity here. Now I’m not sure if this is accurate or not, since cave paintings aren’t colored in, but it’s possible.
The last creature we see is another personal favorite of mine, the Woolly Rhinoceros.
New theories propose that woolly rhinos may have had a lighter coloration going down the middle of the torso, but I’m not sure how accurate these claims are. All in all, he looks awesome, and it is always a joy to see this creature depicted. He is shown acting much like a modern rhino, charging after unknown noises and smells. In this case, he runs over a poor Neanderthal man.
So, what do I think of this series? Well, it’s certainly well made, like its predecessor, but it also makes a lot of the same mistakes. It is constantly presenting speculation as fact and changing science around to make a more interesting story. However, there is still a lot of good science and entertainment in this series, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in prehistoric mammals. In terms of accurateness, however, I give this series a score of…
7 out of 10.
And may these awesome beasts continue to fill our imaginations.
Next time, we continue our journey in the Cenozoic and take on something a bit more lighthearted.
Ice Age is next.