Colours of Wildlife: Terminator Pig of the Cypress Hills

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Terminator Pig of the Cypress Hills

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Cypretherium by Willem.

All right, I hope that some of you realize that this is not an animal that exists! But it did exist. This is Cypretherium coarctatum, a great big beastie that lived in North America about 30 million years ago. It is named for the Cypress Hills Formation in Saskatchewan, Canada, where its fossils were found. More fossils of it were found in Wyoming. This is my own reconstruction: we only have old stony bones, so we don't really know how it looked on the surface, so the things like fur length and colour, and the precise shape of the face, are purely from my own imagination.

Entelodonts: Terminator Pigs of Old

Cypretherium was one of the Entelodonts. It was one of the less well-known members of the family, which is why I chose to illustrate it … I want to contribute pictures to the 'net of things for which there are not many (or in many cases any) nice pictures of yet. Cypretherium's better-known relatives are Daeodon and Archaeotherium. There are a number of related obscure fossil species known as well. These were the Entelodonts. They were among the biggest hoofed animals of their time. They were quite pig-like, but lived before the true pigs, originating about 37 million years ago and going extinct about 16 million years ago. They lived in North America, Europe and Asia. They might have been related to the ancestors of the pigs and peccaries, but there are also signs that they were related to hippos and dolpins and whales. These mammals have been given the name 'terminator pigs' or 'hell pigs' for their terrifying appearance. They were characterized by their huge skulls and long jaws full of fearsome-looking teeth. They also had wide-flaring cheekbones, probably for the attachment of powerful jaw muscles. Most species also had knobs and protrusions on their lower jaws. These might have been overlaid by warty growths like those of the warthogs. The latter entelodonts became huge, Daeodon being as big as a buffalo, standing up to 2.1 m/7' tall at the shoulder hump.

Their ferocity went beyond looks. Although they were hoofed mammals, the entelodonts apparently were meat eaters. They might have scavenged, but there are signs that they actively hunted. They had fairly long and slender legs and were probably fast runners. They could use their jaws, which could open very wide, to grab and kill their prey. Bones of a small camel, Poebrotherium, were found with damage that most probably was caused by an entelodont chomping on it. There are even signs of entelodonts stowing away prey in caches, collecting prey when it is abundant and storing the remains it can’t eat immediately for later. But these animals probably ate some vegetable foods also, like leaves, fruits, and perhaps bulbs and tubers. Their teeth could deal with a diversity of food types.

Cypretherium was a mid-sized entelodont, about the size of a large pig, with a skull about 50 cm/20" in length. It was one of the earlier ones, living about 35 million years ago. It had the strong and dangerous-looking teeth and the flaring jaws, but unlike the similar and better-known Archaeotherium, it had only a single pair of protruding flanges on the margin of its lower jaw. It also had rough bone all over its forehead. This might have underlain a tough, thick pad of skin. There are signs that the warty protuberances of the entelodonts were used in fights primarily by the males, shoving and bumping each other with their big heads. In this species, they might have bumped their heads together as well.

Unfortunately, there is much we still don't know about these imposing ancient animals. We only know roughly how they lived, little about how they looked, and we are still in the dark as to why they died out. They did have a good run, though, and were in their day some of the largest and most impressive creatures to adorn the ancient landscape.

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