...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mega Fauna of North America in Neanderthal Mysteries

by Kaye George

I’ll admit that I set my Neanderthal mystery series in North America because I’m in love with the mega fauna that roamed here before the last Ice Age, which is when that series takes place. The Neanderthals disappeared as a distinct race about 38,000 years ago. However, we now know, because of the advances in genetic science, that they’re not completely gone. In fact, I, personally, am 2.9 percent Neanderthal.
They have only been found in Europe and Asia, but I contend that, just because no traces of them have been found in North American, that doesn’t mean they weren’t here. However unscientific that may be--at least unverifiable so far--the evidence of the huge animals that lived here is clear and undisputed.
(See my guest blog on November 4th, 2013 for an account of my research at the Waco Mammoth Museum.)
Honestly, the animals here were gigantic. The mammoths and mastodons would tower over a modern day elephant. There were two kinds of mammoth, the wooly mammoth that lived in the north, near the glaciers of the Ice Age, and the Columbian mammoth that lived in what is not the southern part of the US. They were very similar, but the Columbian had a much thinner fur coat.
The giant sloth, which could reach a height of 17 feet would give me nightmares the rest of my life if I were to skip back in time and meet one! Look at the claws on that thing! This animal, technically called Eremotherium, probably came to North American from South American across the Panama land bridge 2.2 million years ago. That’s about when the Panama bridge came into existence. (giant sloth photo)
Wolves were called Dire Wolves. Sounds bad, right? They were above the size of a modern gray timberwolf, but heavier. They came here across the Bering land bridge 300,000 years ago.
Giant beavers reached a length of 9 feet and weighed 330 to 440 pounds, three times the size of modern beavers and over ten times the weight. Their beaver lodges and dams had to be a lot bigger, too. This animal probably survived much longer than the others I’ve mentioned, since there are several Native American legends about it. To my knowledge, this is the only continent where giant beavers have ever been found. These prehistoric beavers probably looked just like modern ones, but without the flat tail.
Saber-toothed tigers had those horrible teeth! North America had lions in those days, too, and a precursor to the modern-day camel called a camelops.

The Ice Age musk ox, was, surprisingly to me, little different than the ones who live in the Arctic today. It just looks primitive, doesn’t it? 

I love this mural. It shows the Dall sheep in the foreground, and behind it you can see the long-legged flat-faced bear, early horses, a pronghorn antelope, North American lions, dire wolves, and our beloved bison. The world belonged to them. It’s a safer place without them, but it’s kind of sad that those giants are gone.
One last comment. It’s very strange to me that horses originated in North America as little 50-pound things (eohippus). They roamed between North America and Asia while the Bering land bridge existed, then became extinct here when the mega fauna all died. They had to be brought here by the Spanish many, many eons later.

Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for three Agatha awards and has been a finalist for the Silver Falchion. She is the author of four mystery series: the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, the FAT CAT cozy series (coming in 2014), and The People of
the Wind Neanderthal series.
Her short stories can be found in her collection, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, as well as in several anthologies, various online and print magazines. She reviews for "Suspense Magazine", writes for several newsletters and blogs, and gives workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye lives in Knoxville, TN.

Books by Kaye George/Janet Cantrell~~
DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, Agatha Nominated Neanderthal Mystery~~
EINE KLEINE MURDER, Silver Falchion Finalist Musical Mystery~~
CHOKE, SMOKE, BROKE, Agatha Nominated humorous mysteries~~
FAT CAT AT LARGE by Janet Cantrell, Sept. 2014~~
Kaye's Website
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Smithsonian murals and saber-tooth skeleton photos by Kaye George
giant sloth photo from Smithsonian by Creative Commons license
musk ox from Wiki Commons

Coming Sunday! Author Elaine Faber on
Owney the Mail Dog!
Hope to see you then. 


  1. Kaye,
    What a delightful article!! I love these strange mega-fauna, too. One would hope the giant sloth would at least be slothful. I saw a recreation of a prehistoric kangaroo in the museum in Sydney, Australia. It was well over 8 feet tall. Sproing!!

    There are still little horses, not 50-pounders, perhaps. You must know about the nuns in Texas who raise miniature horses? http://www.monasteryminiaturehorses.com/

    Thanks for post that brightened my morning!

  2. You're welcome! I didn't know about the nuns, but used to drive past another miniature horse farm. They were a craze for a while, but they're still being raised here and there. There's a farm near Knoxville, too.

  3. I enjoyed the article. Although I wouldn't want to run into any of these animals--I'm boggled by the size of the modern moose--I'm not sure the world is safer without them. And I would really like to see a saber-toothed tiger. At a distance.

  4. Kaye, this is such a fun article!

  5. They boggle my mind, too! I would dearly love to see one, but probably at a distance or from within a sturdy cage.

  6. Interesting piece! I can see how fun it'd be to set books in this world!

  7. You do make that time period come alive for the reader!

  8. Thanks, Jacqui! I feel like I'm living there when I'm writing it.