Extreme Mammals: Macrauchenia, AKA Snuffleupagus

Julie Douglas

Give me a home where the Macrauchenia roam... Art courtesy Daniel Eskridge

I recently visited the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta and had a chance to gaze upon some of the most spectacular mammals that once roamed the Earth in the exhibit, "Extreme Mammals," organized by the American Museum of Natural History.

Was I dazzled by the walking whale, Ambulocetus? Hez yes. What about the 1 1/2-inch-long Batodonoides, an extinct relative of the shrew? Indubitably. Or on the other end of the size spectrum, the 21-foot-long rhino-like mammal, Indricotherium? Well, one of the bone's in its toe is as large as the radius bone in my arm.

But the extinct mammal that really gave me pause was the Macrauchenia.* With its shaggy brown hair and long neck it brings to mind physical aspects of a camel, alpaca and giraffe. But the long flexible snout is all Snuffleupagus.

I know, I know. The Sesame Street workshop modeled Aloysius Snuffleupagus on a wooly mammoth. And Snuffy wasn't necessarily a commentary on extinct animals but more of a foil to Big Bird, initially a figment of Big Birds' imagination-- sinus problems and all.

But to stand in front of the Macrauchenia -- the bones of which were first discovered by Charles Darwin -- is to realize we humans are but a blip on the radar of time, which is so vast as to have absorbed multiple mass extinctions, with 99 percent of mammals and other species on Earth no longer extant.

Those creatures were so amazingly peculiar that they rival the creations of the wildest of human imaginations, even Mr. Snuffleupagus.

More reading: How Mass Extinction Works by Tracy V. Wilson

*Many thanks to Daniel Eskridge for the use of his Macrauchenia artwork above.