“This piece is a spectacular summary of the age (Carboniferous) as one dominated by enormous, bizarre-looking plants, with Sigillaria looming imposingly from behind a tangled veil of tree ferns. The dramatically leaping animal in the foreground is Hylonomus, the earliest known definitive reptile. While I realise I gush about Henderson non-stop, this truly is one of his masterpieces; I only wish I had an enormous print of it to hang on my wall.”

Mark Vincent at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs

Meganeura, Robert Back, 2007

Meganeura does not hum or buzz, rather its lace-and-glass wings hiss and whisper, fluttering like paper caught in an electric fan, susurrating like a pinwheel whirling in a breeze. It does not move randomly. Each spiral and zig-zag, each aerial pivot and dive is a calculated part of the hunt. Trajectories are adjusted, targets are pinpointed—one must stay clear of the prey’s eyesight. When the ambush comes, lizard-like Hylonomus hears the wing-shiver for just a split second before being folded into the insect’s arms and consumed while still alive.

The forest dweller, Hylonomus (1851)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Subclass : Eureptilia
Genus : Hylonomus
Species : H. lyelli

  • Carboniferous (315 - 312 Ma)
  • 20 cm long (size)
  • North America (map)

It’s always possible that a more ancient candidate will be discovered, but as of now, Hylonomus is the oldest true reptile known to paleontologists: this tiny critter scuttled around the forests of the Carboniferous period over 300 million years ago. Based on reconstructions, Hylonomus certainly looked distinctly reptilian, with its quadrupedal, splay-footed posture, long tail, and sharp teeth.

Hylonomus is also a good object lesson in how evolution works. You might be surprised to learn that the oldest ancestor of the mighty dinosaurs (not to mention modern crocodiles and birds) was about the size of a small gecko, but new life forms have a way of “radiating” from very small, simple progenitors. For example, all mammals alive today–including humans and sperm whales–are ultimately descended from a mouse-sized ancestor that scurried beneath the feet of huge dinosaurs more than 200 million years ago.

L’Ilonomo, il più antico rettile conosciuto

L’Ilonomo, il più antico rettile conosciuto

Alcuni dei capitoli più importanti della storia natural del nostro pianeta si sono svolti, per così dire “in sordina”: mentre creature enormi o persino inquietanti dominavano la catena alimentare, altre creature, apparentemente piccole ed insignificanti facevano la loro comparsa, vivendo nell’ombra, sopravvivendo grazie a caratteristiche uniche che un domani li renderanno i loro discendenti i…

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(hie- luh-NOE-muss)

Taxonomy: Sauropsida - Protorothyrididae
Genus: Hylonomus
Type Species: Hylonomous lyelli (only species)

Living before dinosaurs, roughly 312 million years ago, during the Late Carboniferous period, the Hylonomus is the earliest known reptile to fully develop to living on land. In 1852, fossil bones were discovered in a hollow fern stump in Nova Soctia.

Appearance: About 8 inches in length, with feet positioned along the side of its elongated body, the Hylonomus looked similar to our modern day lizards. Its stronger backbone and more slender limb-bones separated it from amphibians.

Habitat: Living in lowlands and forests, where there is grass and trees, the Hylonomus lived inside the trees.

Diet: Because the Hylonomus was primarily insectivorous, its eyesight was highly-developed.

[photo source: http://www.dinocasts.com/prod_productDetails.asp?ProductId=493]