Was Leviathan a Parasaurolophus?
And how can we determine the behaviour of extinct animals?
30 June 2007
This week’s feedback is from Matthew R, age 11, of British Columbia, Canada, who asks about the identity of Leviathan. There follows a reply from Andrew Lamb (a ‘scaled up’ version of the reply he sent to Matthew).
Dear Creation people,
>I read your book Dinosaurs by Design and after reading about the leviathan, I looked it up in the Bible. I read it and I have a few objections to it being a Parasaurolophus. No. 1: it’s a herbivore (which might not be very significant,) No. 2: Job probably lived in Mesopotamia: all remains of it were found in North America, and No. 3: My Dad’s Bible called it a crocodile but crocs can’t breathe fire. I’d like you to write back and tell me your opinion on this.
Matthew age 11
Thank you for your letter.
Ideas and Identity
There are several ideas about the identity of Leviathan. Some creationists have suggested that Leviathan might have been a giant marine reptile such as Kronosaurus or Liopleurodon, while others have proposed the T. rex, and yet others have mooted the crocodile. At CMI we think the most promising candidate for Leviathan is Sarcosuchus, a monstrous ‘armour-plated’ crocodile. Sarcosuchus had an unusual bulbous cavity at the end of its snout that could conceivably have been used for mixing fire-generating chemicals. This is discussed in the Sarcosuchus chapter of Dragons of the Deep by Carl Wieland, as well as in a Journal of Creation article by another author, who had came to the same conclusion independently.¹
The book Dinosaurs by Design mentions Parasaurolophus in relation to Leviathan, but as you note, Job 41:31 indicates that Leviathan was an aquatic creature, while duck-billed dinosaurs like Parasaurolophus are generally considered to be land animals.²
Bones and Behaviour
It is not always easy to tell whether an animal is a land animal or an aquatic animal. Think of hippos. They look much like a land animal, and will readily walk on land, but they actually spend most of their time in the water.
There is much about a creature that can be reliably inferred from fossil bones. Growth rings in bones are indicative of a reptile (see How did dinosaurs grow so big?). A certain type of bone marrow structure (medullary bone) is indicative of a female egg-layer.³ Muscle attachment marks on bones can indicate muscle size. Type of locomotion can be determined from ear bones (see That new missing link) and limb bones (see Lucy was a knuckle walker). Acuity of smell can be inferred from skull cavities or indentations associated with the olfactory organs (see Sue the T. rex), and recent studies of pterosaur skulls indicate that their brains would have allowed sophisticated flight control—see Terrific pterosaur flyers.
However, when it comes to animal behaviour, it is not really possible to make reliable inferences from teeth and bones alone. Here’s what one secular science writer said about the difficulty of inferring behaviour from fossil remains:
Imagine an upside-down pyramid with, at the pointed bottom, the word “bones”. Bones are the known commodity, the solid evidence. They are aged; they may be broken, cracked, ambiguous. But you can at least hold them in your hand. Above bones on the inverted pyramid are soft tissues. There aren’t many of those because they rarely fossilize. Above that—so very far from the hard evidence of bones—is behavior. Above that is environmental interaction. The dream would be to know the behaviors of many different dinosaurs and to be able to put them in context so you’d know what dinosaurs ate and where they slept and what they feared and how they prowled the landscape. And at the very top of the inverted pyramid, as far from science as you can get, is … well, probably the purple dinosaur known as Barney.4
So, the idea that Parasaurolophus was exclusively land-dwelling in its behaviour could easily be wrong. In fact, there exists an 1845 newspaper report detailing eyewitness accounts of living creatures that fit the description of duck-billed dinosaurs, and the witnesses said these creatures inhabited swamps—see Bunyips and dinosaurs and Living proof? Ultimately, observations and records are the only sure means of determining the behaviour of animals, just as reliable historical records (and the Bible is a supremely reliable historical record) are the only sure means of determining what really happened in the past.
Dinosaurs by Design includes a picture of a duck-billed dinosaur in shallow water, on page 38, and a picture of a fire-breathing Parasaurolophus in shallow water on page 82. On page 82 the author discusses fire-breathing Leviathan and suggests that Parasaurolophus may have breathed fire. However, he does not actually say that he thinks Leviathan was Parasaurolophus. He seems to just be giving Parasaurolophus as an example of a creature with skeletal apparatus that could conceivably have been used for producing fire.
Teeth and Tucker
Although scientists tend to classify animals as herbivorous or carnivorous, most animals can be either, depending on circumstances. Articles we have published on carnivorous herbivores include Bird-killing sheep, Carnivorous cow5, Carnivorous kangaroos?6 Wild and woolly, Hen-hunting horse, and A taste for blood. Articles we have published on herbivorous carnivores include The lion that wouldn’t eat meat, Mango mutts?7 Meatless mutts (1)8, Vegan dog, Meatless mutts (2)9, and Lea, the spaghetti lioness10.
Before the Fall, all animals were herbivorous (Genesis 1:30–31), but in the cursed post-Fall world of today it seems that virtually any creature will resort to carnivory if hungry enough.
Scientists will often declare an animal to be herbivorous or carnivorous based on study of its teeth, but diet cannot be ascertained with certainty by this method. Based on its teeth, the kinkajou was long classified as a carnivore, but when researchers baited traps with meat, the kinkajous refused to bite. To find out what food did work in their traps, see Catching a kinkajou. And there are some bats that eat only fruit, and others that eat only insects, but all bats have similarly pointy teeth, as shown in Match the bat’s teeth. And some bats even use those same pointy teeth for obtaining blood—see The Dracula connection to a young earth.
Beak shape in birds is not a reliable indicator of diet either. For example most raptors use their sharp curved beaks to tear flesh, but there is one eagle that is vegetarian, and it has exactly the same sort of beak as its carnivorous cousins—see The ‘bird of prey’ that’s not. Another dramatic example is the oilbird, which is totally vegetarian and yet is classified as a bird of prey. For other examples of unexpected diet in birds, see Kea: clever, clownish and carnivorous!? and Vampire finches of the Galápagos (Creation 29(3):52–53).
For many years, scientists have used examination of fossilised digestive tract contents and coprolites as a means of finding out what extinct creatures ate—see T. rex drops clue, Ichthyosaur’s last supper, Early shark intact! and Dino dinner hard to swallow? And now microscopic examination of fossil teeth can also be used to reveal precise information (in some cases) about diet, from the presence of tiny phytoliths (see Phytoliths box). But without direct fossil evidence of diet like this, it is not really possible to be sure what an extinct creature would have eaten. Feeding and diet are to a large extent behavioural.
Life and Location
Most of the world’s fossils are of animals and plants that died in the Flood. If the Parasaurolophus fossils found in North America are Flood fossils, then the location of these fossils now doesn’t actually indicate anything about where these creatures lived or didn’t live in the post-Flood world. At CMI we think that prior to the Flood there may have been a single continent (the single sea of Genesis 1:9 implies a single continent) and that it was during the global upheaval of the Flood that the present configuration of continents came into being—see Probing the earth’s deep places. The pre-Flood world was destroyed (2 Peter 3:6) and buried under kilometres-thick layers of sediment, now turned to rock.
During the first few post-Flood centuries, as the animals spread out from the Mountains of Ararat where the Ark landed (Genesis 8:4) populations of every kind of animal could well have developed on every continent (with the possible exception of Australia—see Ice Age box). Perhaps it was only later that climate changes, hunting, etc. caused some kinds to go extinct on some continents while surviving on others, leading to the distinctively different regional faunas of today.
Job lived in the ‘Land of Uz’ (Job 1:1). Some scholars think Uz was in the region of present day Iraq (Mesopotamia). Others think Uz was southeast of the Dead Sea, in areas now part of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These three countries all form part of the ‘Middle East’ region, which from a global perspective is quite close to the Mountains of Ararat. So it seems reasonable to think that most kinds of animals, including both Parasaurolophus and Sarchosuchus, may once have been found in Job’s homeland of Uz, even though only certain kinds of animals live in the Middle East now.
After the Flood, many of the places that are now deserts were green and lush12–18, still waterlogged from the Flood, and still enjoying high rainfall due to the warm post-Flood seas (warmer seas cause more evaporation which causes more precipitation, and the seas were warm due to volcanic activity associated with the breaking open of the fountains of the deep during the Flood). Although only some animals can survive in Iraq (Mesopotamia) now, due to the hot dry climate, in the lush conditions of the first millennium or two after the Flood probably all kinds of creatures could have thrived there.
Peter Booker, A new candidate for Leviathan? Journal of Creation 19(2):14–16, 2005. Booker argues that Sarcosuchus is the best candidate for Leviathan. Return to Text.
Wikipedia: Parasaurolophus: Paleobiology, <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasaurolophus#Paleobiology>, 28 June 2007:
Parasaurolophus probably lived in large herds and inhabited flood plains. They were herbivores but they were not, as was once thought, aquatic. They were fully terrestrial animals, as evidenced by footprints. They could possibly swim but they lived their entire lives on land.Return to Text.
Schweitzer, M., et al., Gender-Specific Reproductive Tissue in Ratites and Tyrannosaurus rex, Science 308(5727):1456–1460, 3 June 2005, <www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/308/5727/1456>. Return to Text.
Carnivorous cow, Creation 29(4), September 2007:
A farmer in eastern India thought one of the local dogs had eaten 48 of his chickens. But when he and his brother stood guard one night to catch the culprit, they saw his calf emerge from the cowshed and start gobbling up the chickens alive. ‘Instead of the dogs, we watched in horror as the calf, whom we had fondly named Lal, sneaked to the coop and grabbed the little ones with the precision of a jungle cat.’
>Local television pictures showed the cow catching and eating a chicken in seconds, and the local vet (who confirmed the case) had never previously read or heard of cows turning carnivorous (meat-eating).
However, instances of herbivores (plant-eaters) killing and eating animals are not uncommon (e.g. Creation 21(4):9; 22(2):5; 24(3):9). This shows how an animal that is normally a plant-eater can turn to carnivory, as has happened with many animals since the Fall. Conversely, today’s ‘carnivores’ can be herbivorous-an ‘echo’ of the originally perfect world in which all animals were vegetarian (Genesis 1:30).
Carnivorous kangaroos? Creation 27(3):4–5, June 2005:
>Even today most carnivores are far from being as totally carnivorous as we are led to believe. My own dog will eat anything: bread, mushrooms, fruit and even birdseed. She even taught my other old dog how to raid the apricot tree.
I have also witnessed where an animal usually deemed a herbivore turns carnivore. Camping on Kangaroo Island [South Australia], I stared in amazement one evening when, having dropped my barbeque steak sandwich, two grey kangaroos dived upon it and devoured it within seconds. While I expected they’d eat the bread, I couldn’t believe my eyes to see them happily gobble up the meat as well. [This] heavy species of kangaroo [was] thought to consume only grass.
Mango mutts? Creation 27(3):5, June 2005:
My brother-in-law in Charters Towers has a mango tree that was so loaded with fruit that the branches bowed down to the ground. His pig dogs ate all the fruit that was on the ground or touching the ground, apparently with relish.
Meatless mutts (1), Creation 22(4):49, September 2000:
The article on the vegetarian lion (22(2):22–23, March–May 2000) sure was interesting . My cousin has a vegetarian dog. Although she will eat some meat, she prefers fruit and vegetables. She eats apples, capsicum, cabbage, and anything like that given to her. So it’s probably not as uncommon as I thought.
>Please keep up the fantastic work; remember the three angels’ message of Revelation 14:6–7—your ministry is making people aware of our Creator and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Meatless mutts (2), Creation 22(4):49, September 2000:
My husband and I own a dog, Katie, who will happily pilfer our backyard produce if given the chance.
>Last summer she made the discovery that apricots are good to eat, as we found half-eaten fruit strewn across the backyard. By the time we worked out what was going on, there were very few left for our use. Recently she also developed a taste for the wild mushrooms which grow out of our lawn.
On speaking to a number of friends, apparently it is not uncommon; their dogs have raided everything from figs and raspberries to even walnuts. It would seem that some carnivores can and do still have a taste for their pre-Fall diet.
Nairne, South Australia.
The spaghetti lioness, Creation 29(4), September 2007. Return to Text.
Land of Uz. The land of Uz is mentioned in Lamentations 4:21 as home to the “daughter of Edom.” Edom was the same as Esau, brother of Jacob, who later moved into the region around the southern end of the Dead Sea. It was possibly named after Uz, the grandson of Seir the Horite (Ge 36:20–21,28), who gave his own name to Mount Seir, in the land of Edom. He, in turn, may have been named after Uz, the grandson of the patriarch Shem (Ge 10:21–23). Alternatively, Shem may himself have first settled this region.Return to Text.
Is ‘Sahara glass’ formed by lightning hitting sand? BBC Focus #170, page 52, November 2006:
When lightning strikes sand, the sand frequently melts to produce hollow glassy columns called fulgurites. You can buy your own fulgurite on eBay, where you may find it described as ‘Sahara glass’, because most of the fulgurites that are for sale originated in the Sahara desert. This has attracted the attention of climatologists, who believe the presence of fulgurites in the desert indicates that conditions were much wetter and cloudier in these regions in the past. Fulgurites are now used as palaeoclimatic indicators for the historical occurrence of such conditions … LFReturn to Text.
White, M., After the Greening: The Browning of Australia, Kangaroo Press, 1994:
During the Late Palaeocene and Early Eocene widespread rainforest may have extended over most of the [Australian] continent. ... it was a well vegetated land with diverse forest communities forming a mosaic over much of the land. (p. 55)Return to Text.
White, M., The Greening of Gondwana, Reed Books, p. 40, 1994:
… Rainforest clothed much of the [Australian] continent for more than half of the Tertiary Period. (p. 40)
By the time Australia finally severed its last Gondwanan links with Antarctica … rainforests covered most of the land. (inside front dust-jacket)
Will, R.S., History of the Australian Vegetation: Cretaceous to Recent, Cambridge University Press, 1994:
‘Vegetation was subtropical to tropical rainforest across the south (Blackburn, 1981) and western coasts, even to the northwest, and into central Australia (Lange, 1982; Truswell & Harris, 1982).’ (p. 32; see also map p. 31)Return to Text.
White, M., The Nature of Hidden Worlds, Reed Books, 1990:
... the Broad-leaf rainforest which covered much of the [Australian] continent. (p. 181)
Rainforest covered much of the land [Australia] throughout the Palaeocene, Eocene and Oligocene Epochs which comprise the Palaeogene. (p. 188)
Miller, et al., Sensitivity of the Australian Monsoon to insolation and vegetation: Implications for human impact on continental moisture balance, Geology 33(1):65–68, January 2005, <geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/33/1/65>:
Central Australia forests during the Holocene destroyed by fire
The monsoon rains once were abundant before the Holocene … in the interior of Australia which favored forests where now there are vast acres of scrub land report Gifford Miller and associates at the University of Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and the Australian National University, Canberra. The Australian monsoon now delivers about 1000 millimeters (39.4 inches) of rain in northern Australia, but only 300 mm (11.8 inches) fall in central Australia. The authors state that if the central part of Australia were forested the monsoon rain would be twice as great. They noted that fossil evidence shows that animals of central Australia browsed on leaves. Fossil evidence shows also that humans arrived in central Australia about this time and the authors think that they built fires that eventually changed the tree-shrub-grassland into a semiarid zone and desert scrub to weaken the biospheric feedback. These fires may have been the cause of the long-term desertification of the continent.