Ancient Finned Predator Feasted on Sharks

by Becky Oskin

With fangs and the first sawlike teeth on Earth, the biggest predator in the swamps of the early Permian Period ate anything it wanted.

But when Dimetrodon waddled on land 290 million years ago, there weren’t enough tasty herbivores to go around, according to an idea proposed in the 1970s by famed paleontologist E. C. Olson. “There were too many meat eaters,” said Robert Bakker, the curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “There was a meat deficit all over the world.”

After 11 years of sifting through fossils in Baylor County, Texas, Bakker said he thinks he has proved Olson right, based on research presented Monday (Oct. 20) here at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting…

(read more: Live Science)

illustration of Dimetrodon and Xenacanthus by Bob Bakker

The Origins of Rex


If you’ve seen the t.v. show Primeval, then you should be familiar with Abby’s adorable number one sidekick, Rex.  But Rex is not merely a creation of the producers’ imaginations.  His species existed 250 million years ago in the Permian period and is known as Coelurosauravus jaekeli, or more simply just “Coelurosauravus”.  Just like Rex, the Coelurosauravus are believed to have been very intelligent and quick-moving.  They were cold-blooded lizards with wing-like structures allowing them to glide.  Scientists have not taken a stance as to whether or not the coelurosauravus would be suitable companion for humans, or, at least we have no record of any interaction between the species.  That part is left to the minds of science-fiction writers.  

A possible cause of the end-Permian mass extinction: Lemon juice?

Rain as acidic as undiluted lemon juice may have played a part in
killing off plants and organisms around the world during the most severe
mass extinction in Earth’s history. About 252 million years ago, the
end of the Permian period brought about a worldwide collapse known as
the Great Dying, during which a vast majority of species went extinct.
The cause of such a massive extinction is a matter of scientific debate.

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Something about this Prehistoric Monday concept is to stretch out and look at some creatures that I don’t know all that much about. Doliosauriscus is one such animal. Skipping ahead now to the Permian Period (specifically the Capitanian Age), things have moved out of the water. Doliosauriscus doesn’t seem to actually have much written about them at all. All that I was able to find mentioned that it was a Russian anteosaur that was 3 metres in length and discovered in the late 1950’s. The anteosaur family itself, on a broader level, were the predominant predators of the Capitanian Age before they were replaced by the gorgonopsids. The anteosaurs seemed to have more of a sprawling posture than their successors, with evidence suggesting that at the very least Doliosauriscus' relative Anteosaurus lived a rather crocodilian life.

One thing that must be stressed, however, is that the anteosaurs were not dinosaurs or even proper reptiles. They represent one of the two major branches of amniotes (amniotic referring to a hardened eggshell), the synapsids (which includes modern mammals; the other major branch includes reptiles and birds). The anteosaurs, and Doliosauriscus, were a more basal form of therapsid (a branch of mammal-like-reptiles that succeeded the ‘pelycosaurs’, which included Dimetrodon). As such they were not necessarily similar to modern mammals with little evidence suggesting they had fur. They did, however, have the differentiated teeth that is a hallmark of the mammalian skull.

The anteosaurs vanished before the subsequent Wuchiapingian Age, possibly caught in the mess of Olson’s Extinction. This was theorised to account for the difference in faunal deposits between the early and late Permian period. It is now believed that Olson’s Extinction was perhaps one of a series of extinction waves that presaged the Permian-Triassic extinction event 254.5 MYA. Recent research has attempted to ‘close’ the gap in the fossil record by redating fossils. In doing this palaeontologists have constructed a more complete picture of the transition in Permian fauna from a pelycosaur dominated ecosystem to a therapsid ecosystem. It is theorised that the possible causes for the Permian-Triassic extinction (including global warming) may have had an effect on Olson’s Extinction.


Doliosauriscus yanshinovi


No gap in the Middle Permian record of terrestrial vertebrates

Olson’s Extinction

The Guadalupian Epoch

New fossil evidence is pointing to the possibility of a sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s past, and this one may have helped usher in the largest “great dying” that that ever occurred. If that is right, the Permian period may have actually been hit with a two-punch knockout that caused more species loss than the infamous extinction of the dinosaurs.

There were thought to be five mass extinctions in Earth history. Fossil evidence is now pointing to a sixth – and it’s not the human-made Anthropocene THEY always get you when you're down. Life's biggest-ever disaster – the "great dying" 252 million years ago – was helped by another mass extinction just 8 million years before that. If confirmed, it would mean that life in the Permian period was hit by a double whammy that made the extinction of the dinosaurs look like a tea party. This newly discovered second Permian extinction could have left ecosystems fatally vulnerable to the final knockout punch.

The Permian–Triassic extinction event, one of several events colloquially known as the great dying, occurred about 252 million years ago, forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods, as well as the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. It is the Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It is the only known mass extinction of insects. Some 57% of all families and 83% of all genera became extinct. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on Earth took significantly longer than after any other extinction event, possibly up to 10 million years.


GRE, SAT… And the School of My Dreams

Taking the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) today at a local college, I was able to take a stroll down the memory lane. Four hours in front of a computer screen solving math problems and reading about the fossil records of the Permian period isn’t exactly something to trigger nostalgia, but all the effort invested into a single standardized test these days reminded me of those crazy last few months of my high school career.

As my friends D, S and I were waiting for a ride back to our college, we reminisced about the times during which the three of us respectively prepared for our SATs in our own countries. Coming from different parts of Asia, we were not surprised at all to find out that stuff like the SAT and GRE camps exist in our countries – and the thing is that we wish we could take part in one of these camps – subjecting ourselves to daily intensive doses of word memorization, math practices, verbal training and analytical writing marathons in the hope of tasting the fruit of perfect scores.

To any normal American high school student, this could sound ridiculously stupid, but for any learning-thirsty Chinese high school student, our only fear stems from a lack of self-discipline in ourselves or a lack of intensity in these camps. Because the sole reason to uphold the existence of these camps lies in the single-minded pursuit of that one objective, failing to get a good grade in GRE or SAT after months of preparation is not only confidence-shattering but also profoundly depressing. You may have assumed already that these camps – built to mold you into an exam acer – can literally cost you an arm and a leg. Initially, it was hard for me to fathom why smart, self-motivated students would flock to sign up for a monthly SAT crash course that costs as much as $5000! But then you see that expression of reassurance on their face after getting that perfect score. I guess it’s all worth it. And unsurprisingly, that was when I decided to create an intensive camp-like environment for my endeavors with the SAT.


To start off, I taped GRE vocabulary (all from the legendary Big Red Book compiled by the founder of New Oriental School) posters all over my house – not all over my room but all over the house – meaning I recited erudite words such as “epistemology” or obscure words such as “daguerreotype” when I was eating, brushing my teeth, blow drying my hair and, yes, going to the bathroom. Once I found myself blurting out intricate emotions more often in GRE English than Chinese, the ecstasy sent me on a classic English literary reading journey that eventually transformed into a lifelong passion for 19th century British literature. It was the most ordinary encounter after all: I walked into a bookstore, picked up a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Wordsworth Classics and that was it.


This passion to devour literary classics led me to bridge the cultural gap that SAT, as a test designed for American students, represents for the Chinese. Nevertheless, intensive practice is inevitable. I mean, practice makes perfect, that’s the golden rule, especially for us. Making the decision to gulp down those brick-like SAT prep books equated with a willingness to rescind the rights to my bed. I got no sleep for weeks and frankly I didn’t care. In a way, I felt heroic – chasing for a dream school that’s way above my league and not caring a bit about the zombie look I carried with me at all times. I drank coffee like water and red bulls like tea. Any moment not spent on studying seemed like a shameful waste of time to me. Psychologically, I hated leaving home because that meant leaving my niche where my imagined theory – hard work on SAT equals an admission into dream schools – gets in touch with reality. When it got really bad, I would think that dying in the place of a dream-chaser would be a good way to go.


Looking back on those days, I have no idea where that drive of craziness came from until one day, reading Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s novel Confessions of A Mask, I came across these words: “I had a presentiment then that there is in this world a kind of desire like stinging pain.” Now that literature has become a soothing source of comfort and consolation, I can read Mishima’s words and nod: I see. This desire for education – quality education, top-notch education, world-class education – still resides in me. And honestly, it is only 40% the shackles of my Chinese education and 60% the vice of my ambition. Today, I no longer obsess over the results of a standardized test like the GRE. I focus all my energies and time on getting the perfect score on something I feel passionate about and can get daily inspiration from. Writing makes me feel real, alive and active as an existential human being so it will be through writing that I finally get into the “school of my dreams”.

The Permian-Triassic mass extinction

Last post, I mentioned something called the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. I figured I’d clarify a bit.

If someone were to ask you to name a mass extinction, which would you name? Likely as not, it’d be the death of the dinosaurs, officially known as the K-T Event (T is for Tertiary, the first mammal-dominated period. K is for Cretaceous. In case you’re wondering, there are three periods that start with C, and the Carboniferous got its letter first. The Cambrian has a weird thing that looks like an euro sign with only one bar). You might name the current mass extinction, the Anthropocene Extinction (Anthropocene just means” Age of Man”). But neither comes close to being the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history.

At the end of the Permian period, something happened. Nobody knows what for sure, but it happened, and it was catastrophic. It was the Great Dying, and life has never come so close to vanishing altogether.

It has been suggested that there were actually several “pulses”of extinction. The first was likely due to gradual climate change. The last could have been due to a meteorite impact, massive volcanism, sudden and drastic climate change, huge coal or gas fires in what is now Siberia, drastically increased aridity, or… well, there’s no consensus at all, really.

What is known for sure is that the whatever-it-was’ effects on life were devastating. On land, ~70% of all vertebrates died out. In the seas, the overall death tall was closer to 96% of all living things. Even the insects suffered. To put this in perspective, this was the only time a mass extinction ever affected the insects. If you were to only look at the numbers of insects and their growth or decline, you would never notice the K-T Event ever happened. But not even they went through the Great Dying unscathed.

The therapsids, which ruled the land, nearly went extinct, never to recover. Many—most—of the remaining giant reptiles and amphibians vanished. The last of the trilobites and sea scorpions, both of which predated the first vertebrates to have jaws, disappeared.

Obviously, not *everything* died. Some species made it through, mostly thanks to sheer dumb luck. Enough scarred, limping and traumatized individuals survived, close enough to each other and to food for their species to endure. They bred, laid their eggs, and fed and raised their young. They spread and diversified, filling all the empty niches. Some evolved into the first mammals. A group of small running reptiles, the thecodonts, gave rise to the dinosaurs.

Life went on. It always does, in the end.

But the path of life on Earth was forever altered.