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Avatar | How “Mega” Is Your Megafauna?

How “Mega” Is Your Megafauna?

Seven colossal creatures of Pandora face off against Earth’s biggest fauna.

In many relationships — land mammal to sea mammal, for instance — “megafauna” can be a relative term. The white-tailed deer is technically an example of megafauna. But then there are animals that truly put the “mega” into the word — and that pretty much describes most animal life on Pandora. Everything’s just a little bigger there (unless it’s not, in which case it’s a lot bigger). Even our own planet’s larger megafauna, for the most part, have a hard time sizing up. To find anything comparable, you often have to dip into prehistory.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the mightiest beasts of Pandora, and see who comes close here on Earth. But first, a quick lesson on the science of size.

How’d They Get So Big?

The extreme size of Pandoran megafauna depends on a few factors. The first: most Pandoran animals have bones made from a lightweight carbon-fiber composite. This allows them to grow bigger than if they had the heavier, more rigid, osseous skeletons of Earth animals (which would eventually collapse under the body’s weight). We can observe similar conditions in our own prehistoric brachiosaurus, whose neck vertebrae contained large pockets of air to lighten its weight. This is also why our biggest Earth animals — the whales — can be found underwater, where body weight is less of a factor.

Next: improved respiration. Many large animal species on Pandora have evolved a supercharged breathing system, taking in air through openings that resemble a sports car’s hood vents, and expelling it through separate openings. This allows for much more efficient respiration and balancing of heat, which in turn supports the optimal function of the animal in its habitat.

Finally, it’s worth noting that fauna are not the only life forms of “mega” proportions on Pandora. Plants also grow to unearthly dimensions, thanks to the lower gravity on the moon. We know that evolutionary principles of a) adaptation to surroundings and b) inheritance of acquired traits apply in Pandora, so, simply put: big plants for food and habitat mean the evolution of big animals.

Avatar | Pandoran megafauna

Just How Big ARE They?

Here are some of Pandora’s biggest — and our picks for who might stack up from Earth.

Direhorse

The direhorse, favorite land mount of the Na’vi, has an average size of 4.2 meters tall and 4.23 meters long. Our horses don’t even factor here: in Earth terms, the direhorse is as tall as an African bush elephant (3.9m) and as long as a white rhino (4.6m).

Avatar | Direhorse

Hammerhead Titanothere

The tallest animal on Earth is the giraffe, at up to 5.8 meters. And he’d have to peek up to see all of the hammerhead titanothere, which stands at approximately 6 meters tall, 11 meters long. As far as land mammals go, you don’t find anything bigger than the hammerhead unless you harken back to the paraceratherium, a hornless rhino from the Oligocene epoch and one of the largest land mammals in history (8m tall, 9m long).

Avatar | Hammerhead Titanothere

Great Leonopteryx

This is one of the largest known creatures cruising the skies of Pandora. Its 25-meter wingspan — just five meters short of the length of a blue whale (!) — dwarves any bird we have today, and indeed any flying animal from prehistory. The closest contender is the quetzalcoatlus, a late-Cretaceous pterosaur with an 11-meter wingspan.

Avatar | Great Leonopteryx

Prolemuris

At 1m tall, the monkey-like prolemuris is about the same size as our biggest tree-dwelling mammal, the orangutan. Which seems like a draw, until you consider that “prolemuris noctis” is the taxonomical term for “night squirrel.” In Pandoran canopy biology this little guy is more akin to the capuchin, who’s just over 0.5m tall.

Avatar | Prolemuris chart

Thanator

Pandora’s terrestrial apex predator is no house cat — at 5.5 meters long and 2.5 meters tall, it’s bigger than both modern and prehistoric tigers. The biggest of them — the saber-toothed smilodon populator — measured 1.2 meters tall at the shoulder.

Avatar | Thanator

Hellfire Wasp

To find one of the biggest wasps on Earth, you have to travel to the Sumatran jungle and seek out the megascolia procer (11.5cm wingspan, compared to 1-2cm for common wasps). On Pandora, the hellfire wasp is slightly bigger (13cm wingspan), and all you have to do is go outside — it’s nearly ubiquitous in certain areas (though hard to see, since they’ve evolved the ability to camouflage when resting on trees).

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Viperwolf

In many ways, a viperwolf is like an Earth wolf. Both are keen hunters with incredibly strong pack dynamics, and both are respected and feared by local populations. But when it comes to size, there’s no comparison. At 2 meters long and 1 meter tall, the viperwolf is closer to our panther (2.2m long, 0.7m tall) than to any wolf breed.

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Conclusions

Of course, depending on the measure you use, some Earth animals completely overshadow these Pandoran creatures. The argentinosaurus, a sauropod bigger even than the brachiosaurus, grew up to 40 meters long and weighed about 106 tons. Even our blue whale, at 30 meters long and an astounding 181 tons, would be nothing to scoff at in any galaxy. But these are exceptions to the Earth rule, and when you’re talking about a biosphere where even the everyday insects are gigantic, we have to give this one to Pandora.