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Literature / After Man: A Zoology of the Future

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A 1981 book written by Scottish geologist Dougal Dixon, which presented his hypothesis on how the fauna and geography of Earth could change 50 million years from now. Nowadays it's very outdated in terms of biology, geology and many other sciences. It set the stage for the popular topic of Speculative Biology.

There's also an obscure Japanese cartoon episode and television documentary based on it, which, sadly, was never exported elsewhere.


This book provides examples of:

  • Armless Biped: The wakka and the fin lizard lack forelimbs as a result of having become extremely specialized for running lifestyles where front limbs are of little use, and rely on their long necks and tails for balance instead.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: After the carnivorans mostly went extinct, rats filled their former niches to become the dominant predators in most environments. Similarly, the horrane and the raboon are predators descended from monkeys.
  • Backup Bluff: When threatened by birds, the terratail rodent ducks behind a branch, hisses, and sticks its long tail (which resembles a snake) in its predators' faces.
  • Bat Out of Hell: Batavia, a Pacific archipelago that formed after the age of humanity, is inhabited by various strange species of flightless bats. Most of these are simple insectivores or seal-life fish eaters, but the flightless nightstalker is a ferocious predator provided with powerful fangs and claws, and hunts vertebrate prey in packs that fill the Batavian nights with hunting screeches. These are probably the least scientifically plausible of the creatures presented (flightless bats could certainly arise — the New Zealand lesser short-tailed bat does crawl around to hunt — but it'd be unlikely they'd produce forms like the nightstalker).
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  • Bizarre Alien Limbs: The nightstalkers walk on their forelimbs, using their hind legs to subdue prey.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism:
    • The female matriarch tinamou is similar to an adult turkey, while the male lives as a wren-like symbiont that rides around on her back.
    • The male bardelot looks and hunts like a polar bear, while the female has saber teeth and hunts elephant-sized megafauna.
    • The female common pine chuck resembles living songbirds, while male has a massive beak for crushing seeds and nuts.
    • The male pitta is about three times the size of the female.
  • California Collapse: An elongated island of temperate woodlands is visible off the Pacific coast of North America. This is more justified than typical examples, since the book is set fifty million years in the future and this would be the result of thousands of incremental tectonic shifts gradually splitting it away from the mainland.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Using taxonomic orders developed by pre-20th century humans to describe animals from 50 million years after man's extinction results in something like this. For example, the wakka (ratite-like bipedal grazer), desert leaper (resembles a dromedary but with kangaroo-like hopping motion), and bardelot (a polar bear analogue with sabretoothed females) are all classed as rodents even though they're very different from each other and don't always have what we identify as rodent features.
  • Chest Monster: The oakleaf toad lures in prey with its worm-like tongue, while both a bird and a bat mimic flowers to attract insects.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Monkeys and apes still enjoy success in the tree tops, and have also become the top predators of the African grasslands.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Giant, marine descendants of modern penguins took over the place of whales. Anatomically speaking, there are a couple of problems (namely, the flexibility of the spine and the vivipary thing), but otherwise these birds are probably among the most accurate creatures from the book. Which is really saying something.
  • Eyeless Face: The truteal, purrip bat, and slobber have no eyes, having become entirely reliant on hearing and echolocation.
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: The book lives and breathes this trope, with so many examples that they have their own page. The text explains these as being examples of convergent evolution.
  • Feathered Fiend: There are several predatory birds, only one of which seems to be related to any modern birds of prey.
  • A Head at Each End: The terratail is a subversion: it has markings on its tail that make it resemble a venomous snake, allowing this small rodent to perform a Backup Bluff, complete with a realistic hiss, when threatened by predatory birds.
  • Humanity's Wake: Humanity dies out for unspecified reasons after causing the extinction of most megafauna, down to canines and all but one feline. After fifty million years of evolution, the empty niches are filled by the descendants of either smaller animals like rabbits, rats, and mongooses, or by those of domesticated but adaptable animals such as pigs and goats.
  • Living Ship: In a land-going variant, one of the antelope species has a double-ridged back lined with long fur. Insect-eating birds nest in the groove between the ridges, giving their young a free ride along with the antelope herds, while the antelope gets a reliable tick-removal service and is warned of predators by the birds' alarm-calls.
  • Maniac Monkeys:
    • The cheetah-like horrane and the theropod-like raboons.
    • While not true predators, the khiffah sometimes leads a foe into a trap, and then eats it.
    • The swimming monkey is a hunter, albeit of fish rather than mammals.
  • Noun Verber: Many of the animal names follow this trope, typically being literal descriptors of what kind of animal they are and what they do.
  • Panthera Awesome: The striger, the last of the felines, and the first predator in Earth's history to develop adaptations specifically for preying on monkeys and apes.
  • Portmanteau: Some of the animals are named like this, such as the rabbuck (a lagomorph that's taken over the deer ecological niche: rabbit + buck), and the shrock (a large, black-and-white striped insectivore-descendant: shrew + brock). We also have the flunkey (flying + monkey), porpin (porpoise + penguin), tapimus (Tapirus + Mus, the scientific names of tapirs and mice), and the raboons, which are raptor baboons.
  • Punny Name:
    • Many animal names are some kind of wordplay, most of them being Portmanteaus (see aboves).
    • The islands of Batavia are named after the historic capital of the Dutch East Indies, but the name also refers to the fact that it's inhabited by bat-descendants.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: In the distant future, rodents have adapted to take over several niches once occupied by larger mammals and have become ubiquitous members of the smaller megafauna.
    • Rodents are the dominant predators of the new world, and many species have evolved to possess the sizes and dispositions of wolves, large cats and polar bears.
    • Outside of the predator rats, the desert leaper is a kangaroo-like creature around three meters long and the mud-gulper reaches the size of a hippo.
    • Rodents in South America didn't turn predatory since carnivorans still survived there, but did evolve into larger forms like the tapimus, strick, and wakka.
  • Sand Worm: Desert sharks are sausage-shaped, hairless mammals descended from insectivores, which spend most of their time hiding beneath the sand to avoid the desert heat. They swim through the sand with their strong, paddle-shaped limbs and feed on rodents whose burrows their track down by smell.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The oakleaf toad comes from the genus Grima and has a tongue that looks like an earthworm. This is almost certainly a reference to Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings
    • The ghole might well have been named in reference to H. P. Lovecraft's ghouls and dholes, all three being bone-gnawers.
  • Shown Their Work: Some of the ideas in the book are not actually as absurd as they seem:
    • The common pine chuck has insectivore females and seed-eating males. The idea of male and female birds evolving different diets is not unheard of: the now extinct huia bird of New Zealand had males with short crow-like beaks used to eat seeds and insects, while the female had a thin, curved beak to probe for nectar or wood-boring grubs.
    • While unlikely to evolve into forms like the horrane and raboon, monkeys and apes do hunt large prey on occasion and have a significant amount of meat in their diet, particularly chimps which are known to hunt and eat smaller species of monkeys.
  • Speculative Biology: One of the earliest and most famous works in the genre, After Man is dedicated to exploring potential future forms taken by Earth life in order to showcase the ways in which evolution, ecology and natural selection work.
  • Spiritual Successor: The 2003 TV series (and companion book) The Future Is Wild, produced by Animal Planet.
  • The Symbiote: The trovamp, a small blood-sucking mammal.
  • Time Passes Montage: The illustrations of savannah predators include three similar views of the same dead gigantelope, being fed upon in turn by horranes, raboons and gholes, until nothing is left but bones.
  • Toothy Bird: Not exactly "toothy", but there's a kingfisher descendant with tooth-like serrations on the beak.
  • T-Rexpy: The raboon is an unusual mammalian variant of this trope, being a baboon that evolved into a Tyrannosaurus-like carnivore walking on two legs, with short arms, a thick tail and massive fangs. The largest raboon species is primarily a scavenger that chases away smaller, weaker predators from their kill, which is a now-debunked theory about how Tyrannosaurus foraged.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: The book doesn't go into detail about how humans went extinct, as the extinction of humanity is mostly just a way of getting anthropogenic climate change and artificial selection out of the way.
  • Walk on Water: The mosquito larva-eating pfrit, a mammal so lightweight it can scamper across ponds like an insect.
  • You Dirty Rat!: The rats have become the Earth's principal predator group, taking over the place of the carnivorans.

Alternative Title(s): After Man


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