During the Permian, the Earth bakes and desiccates. Seas dry into deserts that drift across Pangea, leaving just pockets of green where lakes pool and streams list beneath Dawn World forests. Here amphibians float and meander, scuttle in the mud, and feed on fish and worms, or skulk in the underbrush to munch on vegetables and bugs. Diplocaulus, Diadectes, Eryops—their names sound like how they move, waddling, undulating, bobbing. There’s still some tadpole in them.
Eryops is like a mammoth frog, though the fat tail, squat legs, and scalpel teeth suggest crocodile. It’s too big to breathe through its skin, so throat pouches balloon and deflate under its chin. It likes to pull millipedes from the leaf litter or corner fat fish in the shallows. Eryops is a bully.
But bullies are not immune to the food chain. Orthacanthus swims here too. It’s eel-like, with twin-forked teeth—not an amphibian, but a freshwater shark whose reign as apex predator lasts 175 million years, from the Devonian to the Carboniferous to the Permian, where it slithers after Eryops who have grown too relaxed, too careless, then snags them with its mouthful of fishhooks. The prongs tear flesh messily, turn meat into uneven ribbons. The shark’s prey chokes, writhes, tries to swim away, but fails, bleeds out, dies. Orthacanthus feeds until it cannot. Then the others come—other amphibians, once-bullied lobe-finned fish, swimming insects, even late summer pollywogs—and dine until the Eryops is just a clatter of bones tangled among the weeds and fallen trees of the desert-fenced bayou.