Giant Beavers
Photo by Charles R. Knight

Prehistoric animals that once roamed Canada

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Our first inhabitants entered Canada during the last ice age, but they didn’t arrive to an empty continent. For millions of years, North America had been thriving with life, both big and small—but mainly big.

As cottagers, we love to share the land with a variety of wildlife, but the animals that inhabited our country millions of years ago were very different than the ones we know today. Here are eight prehistoric animals that once roamed Canada.

1. Giant beavers

While a giant beaver sounds kind of cute, let’s put it in perspective—at two metres in length and weighing up to 200 lbs, the creatures would have been about the same size as a modern-day black bear. This makes them not only the largest beavers to have ever existed, but also the largest rodent in North America during the last ice age. (Don’t even get us started on the giant rats.)

2. Mastodon

Mastodon
Courtesy of Charles R. Knight

Compared to wooly mammoths, mastodons more closely resembled elephants. Our ancestors likely hunted the solitary animals, whose remains have been found mainly around the Great Lakes, to extinction. Best fact, though? Mastodon means “nipple teeth.” Yup, it made us giggle, too.

3. Giant camels

Think camel and think the desert? Think again. The remains of a camel that lived 3.5 million years ago was discovered in Nunavut, indicating that giant camels once roamed the Arctic. Although the Arctic was warmer than it is today, this discovery also speaks to the evolutionary ability of animals to adapt.

4. Saber-toothed salmon

Oncorhynchus
Courtesy of Stanton F. Fink

Sure, we all know you want to read about saber-toothed cats here, but do you know what’s more fearsome? A giant saber-toothed fish! Okay, maybe that’s over-selling it, but saber-toothed salmon, which lived in Pacific waters, grew up to six feet in length and had fangs. However, they actually weren’t that scary—research indicates that they largely ate plankton.

5. Dire wolf

Dire wolves don’t just belong to the House of Stark—they also belong to our prehistoric past. Although they weren’t much larger than today’s gray wolf, dire wolves were fierce, with a strong bite and the capacity to easily overpower their prey.

6. Megalonyx 

SLoth
Courtesy of slothsanctuary.com

The meglonyx was a type of giant ground sloth, weighing approximately 1000 lbs, which is about the size of a bison. That sounds massive until you consider the fact that its South American relative, the Megatherium, weighed up to 4 tonnes, making it just smaller than a mammoth. Unlike today’s sloths, these massive creatures spent most of their time on the ground, rather than hanging out in trees.

7. Yukon horse

Horses originated in North America, which is why it’s no surprise to learn that this common ice-age animal once roamed the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Also called the Yukon wild horse, this species likely died out 12,000 years ago due to climate changes.

8. Platygonus

Platygonus
Courtesy of Charles R. Knight

A pig-like herd animal, this species mainly inhabited Southern North America. However, remains have been found as far north as the Yukon. About the size of a boar, they were likely herbivores, equipped with razor-shaped teeth and tusks for fighting.

 

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