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Sci-Tech

Evolution, in rhyme: Beasts great and small and their cousins big and tall

NPR's Skunk Bear series showcases 12 animals, some with and without hair, next to their prehistoric cousins who could give you quite a scare.

Meet the capybara and its ancestor Josephoartigasia monesi along with other beasts with big relatives in a video from NPR. Video screenshot by Danny Gallagher/CNET

If you've ever looked at a sloth, you might have wondered how a slow-moving creature could ever have survived the harsh, swift judgment of evolution. Well, this helpless-looking creature that looks like everyone who ever woke up with a hangover was once a giant, hairy, ferocious-looking beast called "Megatherium americanum."

NPR's quirky Web series Skunk Bear, which showcases the more interesting sides of science, put together a list of 12 animals with some massive beasts from their evolutionary timelines, plus one large creature that lives with us today.

The most impressive part of the video, posted Tuesday, is that it's presented in one long lyrical poem. That's not easy to do when you've got names like "Sarcosuchus imperator" and "Paraceratherium bugtiense" to contend with while trying to maintain your iambic pentameter.

Some of the creatures cited will make you very grateful you live in the modern age, such as the Daeodon shoshonensis, the long, lost relative of the wild pig:

You think this hog is homely? Well you'd better brace yourself!
Cause here's a hippo relative they call the pig from hell
As burly as a big bad wolf, with emphasis on big
The Daeodon had all the strength of 30 little pigs

Of course, the video couldn't cover every species with a beastly background because trying to find rhymes for every extinct species would even drive Shel Silverstein crazy.

One animal not covered is the chicken and its distant dinosaur cousin Anchiornis. Back in May, scientists from several universities published a study describing a new method for studying the evolution of the chicken beak from its long lost relative. They actually grew the Anchiornis' beak on the embryos of modern chickens using small-molecule inhibitors to block proteins that form their beaks. This method not only helped scientists pinpoint the moment in the chicken's evolutionary timeline when it developed its modern beak, but it could also be used to explore the biological history of other animal species in future studies.

However, if those ancient chickens knew they would become one of mankind's most favorite proteins, they might have tried to keep their original beaks so they could at least put up a better fight.