10 "Titanic" Prehistoric Animals

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Having "Titan" in Your Name Doesn't Necessarily Make You Titanic

The RMS Titanic: do any of the prehistoric animals on this list measure up? (Wikimedia Commons).
We all know about the HMS Titanic, the 900-foot-long, 50,000-ton behemoth that sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York. But millions of years before this headline-making disaster, gigantic birds, reptiles and mammals prowled the earth, which modern paleontologists have chosen to honor by including the Greek root "titan" in their names. Were all of these supposedly "titanic" creatures equally, well, titanic? Here's a gallery of ten candidates, rated on our 10-point scale of truly ginormous awesomeness.


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"Titanic" Animal #1 - Angolatitan

Angolatitan (Wikimedia Commons).

One of the dozens of titanosaur dinosaurs incorporating the word "titan" in their names (others include Lusotitan, Uberabatitan, and Huanghuetitan), Angolatitan was a lightly armored, multi-ton sauropod of late Cretaceous Africa. What merits Angolatitan's inclusion on this list is the unusual fate of its "type fossil": paleontologists speculate that this unfortunate individual blundered into shark-infested waters, where it was promptly ripped apart, its extra-tough epidermis notwithstanding. "Titanic" rating: 7 out of 10 

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"Titanic" Animal #2 - Titanoceratops

Titanoceratops (Wikimedia Commons).

Not the most widely accepted genus of ceratopsian (horned, frilled dinosaur), Titanoceratops, the "titanic horned face," measured 25 feet from head to tail and weighed a whopping five tons, which makes it one of the largest ceratopsians yet identified. The trouble is that some paleontologists believe Titanoceratops was actually an unusually superannuated Triceratops individual, the same way Seismosaurus may have been an exceptionally chunky and elderly specimen of Diplodocus. "Titanic" rating: 9 out of 10

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"Titanic" Animal #3 - Aerotitan

Aerotitan (Nobu Tamura).

It sounds like the brash new airline of an up-and-coming country--"Trip to Dubai? Fly Aerotitan!"--but the "air titan" is actually a newly identified genus of pterosaur. What makes Aerotitan important is that it's the first identified "azhdarchid" pterosaur from South America, a true giant with a 25-foot wingspan and an impressive weight of 200 pounds (compared to 50 pounds, max, for the largest flying birds alive today). Aerotitan may even have been as big as the North American Quetzalcoatlus, though hard fossil evidence is lacking. "Titanic" rating: 8 out of 10 

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"Titanic" Animal #4 - Titanotylopus

Titanotylopus (Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History).

It's a little-known fact that camels once roamed the deserts and plains of Pleistocene North America, and Titanotylopus ("giant knobbed foot") was the biggest camel of them all, weighing up to a full ton. (In fact, this megafauna mammal was once know as Gigantocamelus, which seems much more intuitive!) Appropriately enough, the dinosaur-sized Titanotylopus was equipped with a dinosaur-sized brain, which may explain why the entire IQ-challenged breed went kaput at the cusp of the modern era. "Titanic" rating: 7 out of 10

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"Titanic" Animal #5 - Tyrannotitan

Tyrannotitan (Wikimedia Commons).

Tyrannotitan wasn't technically a tyrannosaur--that honor belongs to meat-eaters like T. Rex and Tarbosaurus--but it was certainly a titan. Discovered in Argentina in 2005, Tyrannotitan's fragmented remains hint at a fearsome predator 40 feet long from head to tail, which would make it comparable in size to the largest theropod of them all, Spinosaurus. There is some suspicion, however, that Tyrannotitan may have been a superannuated specimen of Allosaurus, in which case the record books would have to be rewritten in a different way. "Titanic" rating: 9 out of 10 

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"Titanic" Animal #6 - Titanops

Brontotherium, aka Titanops (Wikimedia Commons).

The megafauna mammal so big that they named it not once, but four times, Titanops (which is better known as Brontotherium, and also responds to Brontops and Megacerops) was a two-ton perissodactyl (hooved mammal) of the late Eocene epoch. Like Titanotylopus, above, Titanops possessed an unusually small brain for its size, and it looked uncannily like a fur-covered version of the hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs) that preceded it by tens of millions of years. "Titanic" rating: 7 out of 10

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"Titanic" Animal #7 - Titanoboa

Titanoboa (Sameer Prehistorica).

What do you call a 50-foot-long, one-ton boa constrictor ancestor? Whatever it wants you to, naturally. The largest prehistoric snake that ever lived, Titanoboa terrorized its fellow plus-sized reptiles of middle Paleocene South America, including the one-ton turtle Carbonemys. The presumably cold-blooded Titanoboa was so thick and muscular, toward the middle of its trunk, as to lead scientists to the conclusion that Colombia was a much warmer (and much more dangerous) place 60 million years ago than it is today. "Titanic" rating: 10 out of 10 

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"Titanic" Animal #8 - Titanophoneus

Titanophoneus (Wikimedia Commons).

The Greek root "phon" means "murderer," not "phony," but it's the latter definition that comes to mind when discussing Titanophoneus. The fact is that this "titanic murderer" wasn't all that big, only about eight feet long and 200 pounds (which, granted, was still pretty impressive way back during the Permian period, 250 million years ago, when most creatures had yet to evolve to enormous sizes). Titanophoneus compensated for its lack of bulk with the two enormous canines in the front of its snout, and it may (or may not) have been covered in fur. "Titanic" rating: 4 out of 10

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"Titanic" Animal #9 - Titanosuchus

Titanosuchus (Dmitry Bogdanov).

Titanosuchus fails titanically, in two crucial ways. First, this "titanic crocodile" wasn't a crocodile at all, but a type of therapsid, or mammal-like reptile, of the Permian period. Second, Titanosuchus only measured about 6 feet long and 200 pounds, or about the size of a full-grown human. Oddly enough, the closest relative of this obscure beast was another less-than-titanic therapsid of southern Africa, Titanophoneus, described above. Conspiracy or carelessness? You make the call. "Titanic" rating: 4 out of 10

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"Titanic" Animal #10 - Titanis

Titanis (Wikimedia Commons).

The discoverer of Titanis must have been very confident in this prehistoric bird's, well, titanicness, as he didn't even bother to append another Greek root to its name. As flightless, predatory birds go, Titanis was certainly imposing, weighing a few hundred pounds and towering eight feet above the ground--but it still wasn't as big as fellow Pleistocene birds like Aepyornis or Dinornis. Extra points for being the heavy of James Robert Smith's best-seller The Flock, soon to be appearing at a theater near you. "Titanic" rating: 8 out of 10