mammal like reptiles

anonymous asked:

What do you think Nidoking and Nidoqueen are based of?

Their lines seem to be inspired by bits of all sorts of animals - we git some unmistakably mammalian influences, for example from rhinos, rodents/rabbits etc. but also something archaic and reptilian - hey don’t have cheeks for example. I think that they form a unique little clade within pokémon, a distinct body plan (that includes having also similar quadruped pre-evos) that allies them with the rhydon line. Indeed the Nido royalties, Rhydon, and Rhyperior all are known as The Drill Pokémon. Also, Khangaskan shares many features of this group too. 

The body plan of a large, eared, bipedal, tailed, spiny, reptiley-mammal has an unmistakably gen 1 feel about it, it is so recognisable, for example it stars as the iconic gym statues, and as one of the major roster sprites in gen1/2. Rhydon like mons everywhere man. 

Of course, rhydon was one of the first Pokémon designed, and you can see from this early concept art that the original rhydon was even more Nido like than now.  

Ok I don’t know where I’m going with this, but before I had a tendency to shoehorn pokémon into definitive groups based on real life counterparts, however this often runs into difficulties where you have pokémon based on more than one unrelated real life animal, or when a real life counterpart simply doesn’t exist. Plus we have lots of game mechanic bullshit that can be just plain biological sacrilege - eggs, B̑́ͧ͐rͨͩ̇ͣ̏ͧE̷͗E͑͟d͗͆iͤͦͫ͒n͟Ǧ̃̃̄̌, evolutionary stages (though I see pokémon evolution in this sense as a form of facultative metamorphosis) etc.  

I think now it’s better to assume that Pokémon is an incredibly different universe, but one that does share some fundamental biological and evolutionary laws and similarities. Thus for example instead of saying that Rattata is a rat definitively, it could be better to say that Rattata is an organism that shares many morphological and ecological characteristics with a rat, and thus, since we have very limited data to go upon (we can’t properly study it’s physiology, behaviour etc., sequence DNA etc., and like,the pokedex is written by a ten year old child lol), we can infer aspects of it’s biology from rats as well as it’s evolutionary relationships to other rodent like pokémon that share a similar suite of physiological and ecological characters, from what we know about such relationships in Rodentia, and from real world character evolution. 

So what can we say about the Nidos? They are part of a distinguishable group of pokémon that all possess a distinct set of ecological, behavioural, and morphological characters, which have analogies to a variety of real life mammalian and reptilian real life counterparts, such as rhinos, glires (rodents and lagomorphs (hares, pikas, and rabbits), and mammal like reptiles. The variation within this group of pokemon is less than the differences between members of this group and other pokémon, and this unites this group as a clade. It would be a lot of work to actually work out what pokémon the drill pokémon + khangaskan are most closely related to, i.e. make a phylogenetic tree, but here is just a rough within group tree with a possible scenario of major character evolutionary events (indicated by black rectangles). 

(also, the breeding rules between the Nidos, and whether the king and queen are different species or this is just sexual dimorphism is completely clouded by game mechanics of having gendered pokémon before established gender mechanics, so I’m not going to into that - however, I will say for a quick example, meerkats live in a matriarchal society and the alpha female usually has most of the breeding rights - however, because she has to defend the her position, as well as the group itself from danger, she often has very high testosterone levels which reduces her fertility - perhaps nidorina and nidoqueen are extreme examples of this, changing physically to take on a more protective role, letting nidoran sisters/aunts/mothers take on breeding roles)

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natgeo video by @joelsartore | This Malay eagle owl was photographed at Jurong Bird Park, part of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (@wrs.ig). This species can be found in the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia and prey on large insects, birds, small mammals and reptiles. It’s likely that they mate for life and they’ve been known to become very attached to their nesting locations. In many instances the owls will return to their site year after year, and if one mate dies the other will continue to maintain the same territory.
For a portrait of this owl, check out @joelsartore.

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Video by @joelsartore | This Malay eagle owl was photographed at Jurong Bird Park, part of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (@wrs.ig). This species can be found in the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia and prey on large insects, birds, small mammals and reptiles. It’s likely that they mate for life and they’ve been known to become very attached to their nesting locations. In many instances the owls will return to their site year after year, and if one mate dies the other will continue to maintain the same territory.

It’s Dimetrodon! I can’t make up my mind whether this is supposed to be a sunset or a sunrise so let’s just call it both for now.

Dimetrodon is another prehistoric animal that often gets mistaken for a dinosaur (particularly by toy companies), but it is in fact a member of the synapsid family. For those of you not up to date with your science vocabulary, synapsids are a huge group of land-living animals that include mammals. 

Often called mammal-like reptiles, synapsids are actually not reptiles of any kind, and instead split off from early amphibians independently of the reptiles, or sauropsids to give them their fancy scientific name. That means Dimetrodon is more closely related to bats, giraffes and humans than it is to any dinosaur or reptile, which is pretty cool. Now if only toy stores would stop putting them in their “dinosaur” bargain bins.

It just now occurs to me that for a blog called I Draws Dinosaurs, I haven’t really drawn many dinosaurs for a while

More Mammals with Venom

by John Wible

The duck-billed platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is no doubt one of the world’s oddest mammals, with a suite of adaptations to its life in streams in eastern Australia and Tasmania. Its suede-like bill is packed with electro- and mechanoreceptors, which help the platypus find small invertebrates and fish in murky waters. It has webbed forefeet and hind feet and a hairy, beaver-shaped tail, all great for swimming and diving, and a lush, thick coat for insulation on cold mornings.

As with other mammals, the female platypus produces milk to nurture its young. However, its young are hatched from leathery eggs! Along with the echidna or spiny anteater from Australia and New Guinea, the platypus is one of the two types of living monotremes or egg-laying mammals. This is in contrast to the other groups of extant mammals, marsupials, and placentals, which have live births.

Along with egg-laying, the skeleton of the platypus is a throwback to its mammal-like reptile origin. The bones in its arms and legs, the humerus and femur, are set perpendicular to the trunk, giving the platypus a sprawling posture and a waddling gait on land. Marsupials and placentals have more upright postures with less waddling.

But where is the venom? If you look closely at the ankle of the male platypus, you will see a deadly looking weapon made of keratin, just like your fingernails. This tarsal spur sticks out from the body and sits on a small, flat bone—the os calcaris. The spur is hollow and connected to a gland below the knee that produces venom during the platypus breeding season. Because of this seasonal activity, the venom is thought to be used in male-male competition for females. 

For humans that make the mistake of picking up male platypuses at the wrong time of year, the venom is not deadly, but it is excruciatingly painful. One unfortunate soldier said it is worse than shrapnel! A small remnant of the spur is retained in juvenile female platypuses for only a few months after hatching, and the supporting bone, the os calcaris, without a spur occurs in the echidna. In recent years, tarsal spurs and support bones have been found in the fossil record for numerous groups of extinct primitive mammals that lived during the Age of Dinosaurs. Rather than being unique to the male platypus, venom manufactured in the leg may have been a widespread component of early mammalian weaponry for survival in the hostile Mesozoic landscape. Why this apparatus was lost in early marsupials and placentals is a mystery. One group, the bats, have reinvented a tarsal spur, where it is used in support of the wing membrane.


John Wible, PhD, is the curator of the Section of Mammals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. John’s research is focused on the tree of life of mammals, understanding the evolutionary relationships between living and extinct taxa, and how the mammalian fauna on Earth got to be the way it is today. He uses his expertise on the anatomy of living mammals to reconstruct the lifeways of extinct mammals. John lives with his wife and two sons in a house full of cats and rabbits in Ross Township.

WHERE DO MAMMALS COME FROM?

The Earth plays host to a remarkable variety of creatures all of which diverged from a single, unknown common ancestor. In the 540 million year history of complex life there have been repeated turnovers in dominant life forms, from The Age of Fishes during the Devonian to The Age of Reptiles during the Mesozoic which gave way to our current era in time, the Cenozoic, or otherwise known as The Age of Mammals. But where do mammals come from…?

Pelycosaurs…
The Pelycosaurs first appeared 306Ma and are the most basal synapsids. Synapsids are mammal-like reptiles; a distinguishable feature is their skull with only one post orbital fenestra, reptiles have two. The mammal-like reptiles show the earliest signs of evolution towards more mammal characteristics, Dimetrodon is a classic example. Dimetrodon had only a single temporal fenestra, this feature allowed for jaw muscle attachment to be further back providing a stronger bite force over a wider range of jaw movements, subsequently making Dimetrodon one of the most successful predators of its age.
Dimetrodon quite literally means “two sets of teeth” and this refers to its elongated incisors, this is the beginnings of the mammal feature known as heterodonty (differentiated teeth). Dimetrodon also exhibits deep ridges of the inner nasal cavity providing a larger surface area for the attachment of olfactory epithelium indicating a larger reliance of the sense of smell (something that will become more important in future mammal evolution).

Therapsids…
Therapsids appear around 275Ma and likely evolved from pelycosaurs or a similar sort of ancestor. They are still classed as synapsids but they even more mammal-like features than their ancestors. Therapsids have less of a sprawling gait than the pelycosaurs and other reptiles (although the herbivorous kind still retain a rather sprawling gait, this is a feature that is slow to disappear). Therapsids have an even larger temporal fenestra and more elongated incisors as the teeth continue to differentiate. The skull of therapsids is also beginning to change; mammals have a single jaw bone called the dentary, this is present in synapsids along with many other jaw bones such as the quadrate and articular, but as mammal evolution gets underway the dentary expands and the quadrate and articular reduce in size and become part of the middle ear bones. Some Therapsids were apex predators throughout the permian such as Gorgonops.

Cynodonts…
Cynodont fossils are some of the most important fossils in the mammals evolutionary record and we are classed as part of Cynodontia. They are dog-like creatures and appear around 260Ma, they were hugely successful and diversified rapidly. One of the best examples of cynodonts in mammal evolution is Thrinaxodon. The cynodonts exhibit even greater tooth differentiation and tooth occlusion (precise tooth contact of the upper and lower teeth, a feature unique to mammals). Tooth occlusion also suggests the cynodonts had controlled tooth replacement like mammals (mammals exhibit diphyodonty meaning two sets of teeth, the milk teeth and the adult teeth).
More importantly, cynodonts also show partial or complete secondary palates meaning they are able to swallow food and breathe at the same time, something reptiles cannot do. Many taxa also show absence of abdominal ribs allowing for the presence of a diaphragm which increased lung capacity. A diaphragm paired with the secondary palate and tooth occlusion suggests that cynodonts had a higher metabolism than other extant animals of the time. The cynodonts dentary continues to expand further back of the skull.
Some cynodont skulls have small indentations around the nasal region which may be indicative of nerve passages towards sensitive hairs, possibly whiskers, if so, cynodonts had hair. Thrinaxodon and others also have a larger brain size in comparison to the rest of the body than other animals as well as enlarged auditory and olfactory regions suggesting they were nocturnal.

The Permian extinction struck 250Ma due to extensive volcanism of the Siberian Traps leading to a runaway greenhouse effect. Between 80% and 96% of living species died out, including most of the cynodonts and the therapsids. Reasons why the reptiles battled through this extinction and rose to dominate is still debated but it may be due to the fact that reptiles can secrete nitrogenous waste as a uric paste whereas mammals must secrete is as a liquid. This allowed the reptiles to conserve water and see the extinction through.
Whilst most cynodont species perished, a few individuals made it through, they were mostly small, nocturnal burrowers capable of getting water from underground root nodules and tubers. However, the cynodonts would not rise to dominance again but their descendants would, although not for another 200 million years. They would spend the Mesozoic Era in the dinosaurs shadows, their evolution driven by a nocturnal lifestyle and the need for endothermy. The evolution of our ancestors was shaped by the dominance of the dinosaurs, when their reign ended 65 million years ago our true mammalian ancestors would quickly take over the niches left behind and become some of the most spectacular creatures the world has ever seen.

Mokele Mbembe
Herman Regusters
Mokele Mbembe

Above is the supposed noise that was recorded by Herman Regusters, his wife, and his team who visited the Congo’s Lake Tele back in 1981. The authenticity of this recording has been confirmed, and further  mystified by sending the audio clip to a zoological source which couldn’t contribute the noise to any living animal. Regusters later changed his opinion on the topic, stating that the Mokele Mbembe didn’t have a vocal call. Instead, he says it was from an entirely different cryptid, the Emela-ntouka. Whatever the case, this certainly is an eerie sound to hear. The image I connected to the audio is a supposed image of a footprint left behind by a Mokele Mbembe, which has been circulating around the web. 

A short video of a plane flying over the area also features the cryptid briefly, but could easily be explained off as a canoe or anything but the Mokele mbembe basically. There’s also been another picture floating around featuring a sauropod-like creature swimming through the area:

However, I’ve seen people also say this is an image of the Loch Ness Monster and what not, so the origin of this image is very debatable. Hopefully one of you can track it down. It seems fairly convincing, but also like some sort of a horse or something swimming. I don’t know, it certainly doesn’t look like the Mokele Mbembe to me, from what I can see at least. The only thing we’re left with are the eye witness testimony by the natives.

Eye witnesses that live in the area all claim similar things, long neck, long tail, three toed, has spikes, and eats a certain type of plant. They also claim the population is dwindling, and by looking at all of the expeditions in order, it certainly does appear that way. The creatures are also ferociously territorial against Hippopotamus, which becomes very apparent in the reports by the natives. Reverend Eugine Thomas claims that he witnessed the natives take down a Mokele Mbembe. The natives built a fence to keep out the beast as they fished, but it somehow managed to break through and rampage. Unfortunately for the cryptid, the pygmies were able to out smart the creature. According to the writings of William Gibbons who documented what the reverend had to say, “the two pygmies mimicked the cry of the animal as it was being attacked and speared… Later, a victory feast was held, during which parts of the animal were cooked and eaten. However, those who participated in the feast eventually died, either from food poisoning or from natural causes. I also believe that the mythification (magical powers, etc) surrounding Mokèlé-mbèmbés began with this incident.”d In other words, the poisonous carcass of the sauropod-like animal caused natives to grow sick and die, adding a religious-type meaning to the creature.

In my honest opinion, I have no idea what the Mokele Mbembe is. I’m not entirely convinced it is a living dinosaur, because sauropods did not swim. Movies like The Dinosaur Project claim the legend to be a plesiosaur, but what kind of plesioaur walks on land, and why in the heck would they be fighting hippos? I doubt they would be that courageous, no offense to them. A sauropod-like mammal, or giant sauropod-like reptile/lizard sounds possible, but it’s all speculation at this point. I’ve thought of everything: A new species of rhino, giraffe, giant lizard, heck, maybe even a sauropod. Stilll, none of it seems to fit!

Whatever it is lurking in the Congo, I believe it’s either nearing extinction, or already is. Despite this, the legend continues through the generations remembering their existence. 

charlesisseriousbusiness  asked:

I'm not denying that birds are dinos, but if mammals evolved from reptiles, does that make us reptiles? Or is there something I'm not getting?

Mammals didn’t evolve from reptiles! Synapsida and Sauropsida (mammal-like things and reptiles, respectively) are, by definition, mutually exclusive.

ERAS OF THE EARTH

It wasn’t long ago that our Earth was thought to be only a few thousand years old and having been created in a matter of days. However during the scientific revolution that was taking place in the 18th and 19th centuries, minds like Darwin, Hutton and Lyell were challenging these age old theories. It was Charles Lyell that pioneered the theory that the forces of physics have remained the same throughout history, James Hutton also expressed that we can interpret the ancient past by studying modern day natural processes because the past and present are governed by the same laws. His findings reported that layers of sediment accumulated at around 2cm per year, he deduced that since mountains are sedimentary formations and thousands of metres high that the planet is more than a few thousand years old, but hundreds of millions. 

Our Earth is actually 4600 million years old, this staggeringly long time is almost impossible for the human mind to comprehend. As far as we know, life emerged as single celled organisms around 3800 million years ago, for the next 3 billion years it would remain as these minute unicellular organisms. This is the Precambrian, 4600 - 570 million years ago. 

To help us grasp the immense history of the Earth, a geological timescale was developed with each period marking a milestone in evolution and life.

CAMBRIAN 540 - 488 million years ago
Named after Cambria, an ancient name for Wales where rocks of this age are greatly exposed.
The Cambrian period sees explosive development of multicellular life with all the main modern phyla being established. Complex eyes and food chains evolve as well as active predation. Life is confined to the sea.

See Hallucigenia Opabinia Anomalocaris  

ORDOVICIAN 488 - 440 million years ago
Named for an ancient welsh tribe, the ordovices who lived in areas where rocks of this age are well exposed. Th oceans flourish with huge diversity of jawless fish, trilobites and gastropods and arthropods begin to dominate. The period ends with arthropods taking the first steps onto land. The end of the ordovician is marked by the first of the five major mass extinctions to hit the planet.

See Pterygotus Cameroceras 

SILURIAN 444 - 416 million years ago
Named for another welsh tribe, the silures, who inhabited areas where rocks of this age are abundant. Life in the oceans recovered from extinctions, magnificent coral reefs thrive in warm seas. Small plants begin to colonise the land and jawed fishes evolve.

DEVONIAN 416 - 359 million years ago
Named after the English county of Devon which is rich in Devonian age rocks and fossils. The Devonian period is also known as the age of the fishes. Jawed fish and placoderm fish rule the oceans, trilobites still thrive. Plants move from the coastal areas deep into land and the first forests spring up. Shark species increase in numbers and early forms of amphibian begin to spend more time on land.

See Dunkleosteus 

CARBONIFEROUS 359 - 299 million years ago
Known as the age of amphibians and named for the ancient coal deposits which were laid down during this time. The land is overrun with lush forests and swamps, The two main continents of the time, Eurasia and Gondwana are colliding to form the supercontinent Pangea. Winged insects take over the skies, oxygen content is much higher that today allowing insects to reach great sizes and the first true reptiles evolve, these are the first truly terrestrial vertebrates.

PERMIAN 299 - 251 million years ago
Named after Perm in Russia where rocks of the age are well exposed. Pangea is covered in harsh deserts, the number of species goes into decline, eventually 95% of them are wiped out in the worst mass extinction ever seen. Mammal like reptiles evolve. The first dinosaurs evolve towards the end of the Permian, they start as a few isolated groups and begin to increase rapidly in numbers.

See Scutosaurus Helicoprion Dimetrodon Gorgonops 

TRIASSIC 251 - 200 million years ago
Named after the word “Trias” referring to 3 rock divisions in Germany called bunter, muschelkalk and keuper. The climate of Pangea is warm and dry and dinosaurs have gradually assumed dominance in the land, skies and oceans. Mammals only exist as a few small species. Ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs reign in the sea and reach phenomenal size.

See Proterosuchus Tanystropheus 

JURASSIC 200 - 146 million years ago
Named for the Jura mountains. Dinosaurs still dominate the land and the oceans flourish with marine reptiles and ammonites. The first bird start to appear towards the end of the Jurassic.

See Liopleurodon Megalosaurus 

CRETACEOUS 146 - 65 million years ago
Named for the latin “creta” meaning chalk which is laid down during this period and found widely now. Dinosaurs continue to dominate, the first flowering plants evolve. Sea levels are up to 300m higher than today in some areas, much of the land is covered in shallow seas. Carbon dioxide concentrations rise, slowly choking the atmosphere. The end of the cretaceous is marked by the extinction of the dinosaurs due to possible meteor impact.

See Archelon Deinosuchus Ankylosaurus 

PALEOGENE 65 - 23 million years ago
The world begins to recover, mammals and birds begin to flourish and exploit the vacant niches left behind by the dinosaurs, in doing so they grow to incredible sizes. The climate is gradually cooling and will continue to do so bringing the earth into an ice age. In these cooler conditions the first grasses evolve.

See Gastornis Paraceratherium Entelodon Andrewsarchus Ambulocetus

NEOGENE 23 - 2.5 million years ago
The climate is still cooling, ice sheets begin to spread down from the poles, as a result sea levels slowly drop. The size of forests reduce and grasslands take over resulting in vast open planes. Mammals dominate the earth due to their ability to adapt to changing environments and harsh conditions. Towards the end of the period early hominids begin to appear.

See amphicyon Glyptodonts Megalodon

QUATERNARY 2.5 million years ago to present
With an enduring ice age much of the mammalian megafauna have become extinct. Hominids have continued to evolve, only the homo sapiens survive as they are able to adapt.

See Megatherium 

charlesisseriousbusiness  asked:

If mammals didn't evolve from reptiles, than what was dimetrodon? (I probably spelled it wrong, so can you tell me the actual spelling?)

It was a non-mammal synapsid (often incorrectly called “mammal-like reptiles”, hence the confusion. “Protomammal” is an alternative term that’s more accurate.) And you spelled it right!

jesus-lizard-journal  asked:

Sorry if you've already covered it, but could you tell us a little about Dimetrodon?

Dimetrodon!  One of the most famous prehistoric creatures, and yet one of the most frequently misunderstood.

(Above image by Alphynix.)

Dimetrodon, contrary to popular belief, was not a dinosaur.  It didn’t even coexist with the dinosaurs; it lived from 295 to 270 million years ago, predating the dinosaurs by over 40 million years.

Dimetrodon was actually a sphenacodont.  Sphenacodonts were synapsids, members of the group that contain modern mammals.  As a result, sphenacodonts like Dimetrodon are frequently described as “mammal-like reptiles”, along with other varieties of non-mammalian synapsids, such as the gorgonopsids and the therocephalians - even though none of these animals were truly reptiles.

While initially considered sluggish and reptilian (as in the above reconstruction, done by Charles Knight in 1897), Dimetrodon has since undergone a paleontological brand overhaul, and is now often depicted as a more active, potentially even mammalian creature - one of the biggest predatory animals of the Permian period.

There are currently thirteen accepted species of Dimetrodon, most of which were native to the southwestern United States; one species is known from Canada, and another is known from Germany.  These species ranged greatly in size, from five to fifteen feet in length.  Some of these species may or may not represent growth stages of the same species of animal.

That’s all well and good - but what’s up with the fin on its back?

Dimetrodon is most famous for its sail.  Long, thin neural spines growing from the animal’s back were connected by blood vessel-filled soft tissue, forming not just a sail of skin, but a veritable icon of prehistory – a visual shorthand for “primordial beast” that has since been erroneously applied to numerous dinosaurs over the years. However, Dimetrodon was not unique in its possession of a sail; numerous other reptiles and amphibians have sported similar sails, frills, ridges, bumps, and lumps over the eons.

The purpose of Dimetrodon’s sail is not certain, but it definitely looked quite different than the usual depiction.  To quote from the linked source:

Although traditionally depicted with a fully skin-covered sail, the bone structure of Dimetrodon’s neural spines suggests differently. The base seems to have anchored strong back muscles… with soft-tissue webbing only extending partway up the bones. Meanwhile the upper portions of the “sail” were probably free-standing, and many fossils show crooked bends where the unsupported spines didn’t grow straight.

A prevalent theory is that the sails were an important factor in the recognition of individuals, and that they played a role in visual communication.

Whatever they were used for, it doesn’t change the fact that Dimetrodon was quite a visually striking animal.

(Dimetrodon grandis, by John Conway.)

I’m sifting through all my fossil teeth, bones, and imprints and thinking a lot about biology and geology and chemistry. Sometimes, it strikes me as a little odd, how something scientific can have such a deep, spiritual resonance for me. But it does. 

The knowledge that I am made of millions, if not billions (the human brain cannot truly conceive such numbers), of tiny, disparate atoms which come together to form molecules that chain into keratin, collagen, the water in my saliva, the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, the ATP whose splitting and reforming powers the actin and myosin proteins in my muscles… all of those infinitesimally small pieces are as ancient as the universe itself, and as individual as they all are, they bond together to form a complex, sentient, sapient organism who has a hard time imagining itself (herself) to be anything but a singular entity… That knowledge staggers me.

And though I sometimes feel like a failure, or that I’m not good enough, I only exist because of the successes of millions upon millions of years of my evolutionary ancestors. My own immediate family is no less important, but I cannot forget my more ancient ancestry.

H. floresienses. H. neaderthalensis. H. heidelbergensis. H. ergaster. H. habilis. Down through the eons. Australopithecus. Kenyanthropus. Paranthropus. Further still. Nakalipithecus. Ouranopithecus. Oh, but the mammalian lineage–my lineage–goes back further than primates.

My ancestors–Eozostrodon, Megazostrodon, Sinoconodon–walked with dinosaurs. Tiny, unobtrusive creatures with the size and look of modern mice and shrews, they went ignored by the mighty, stomping, sprinting royalty around them. They quietly burrowed in the brush and snapped up small insects to eat, and doubtless lived in constant fear of being ground into the dust by an inattentive sauropod or becoming the meal of some slightly-less-minuscule raptor. 

We, a species that considers itself the owner and and ultimate conqueror of the planet and the most important beings in the universe, had such modest, humble beginnings.

But evolution demands prototypes: A new species, a new order, cannot simply appear overnight. To have a mammal, you must have a proto-mammal.

My great-grandparents, my oft-forgotten ancestors, were the therapsids, the mammal-like reptiles. Cynodonts, dog-toothed reptiles with fewer jawbones than their parents. Funny little reptiles that look like a cross between a spaniel and an alligator. They are in my family tree, long-lost relatives of the sort that you really only see at those once-in-a-lifetime family reunions that bring in every living relative whose name you’ve never even heard before but who still, in some way or another, share blood with you.

But they aren’t just my own relatives. They are kin to tigers and elephants, opossums and woolly mammoths. Every creature who has hair and a body temperature kept stable by its own metabolic heat, every organism that gives birth to live young and nourishes them with milk from its own body, can thank the therapsids for successfully surviving. 

With this in mind, who am I–who are we–to say that anything non-human is lesser.

But those ancestral proto-mammals had to come from somewhere. Synapsids. Reptiles who came from amphibians, who came from bony fishes, who came from jawless fishes, who came from the countless invertebrates who swam the Cambrian seas (vibrant and exploding with life), who were the children of tiny single-cellular specks in the water who photosynthesized the light of a young sun and filled the skies with oxygen.

I am a tiny speck in the incomprehensible ocean of the universe, and the tiny specks–the atoms–that make me up once made up one of those tinier specks in the slightly-less-tiny oceans of planet Earth.

There is iron in my blood and iron in the lumpy deposits I pick up off the beach. The fossilized shark teeth I’ve plucked out from their bed of countless grains of silicon dioxide (beach sand, crumbs of quartz and all its colorful variants) are made of apatite–the same calcium phoshate that makes up my own. I have something in common with a fish that lived and died twenty million years ago? The mind boggles.

There are those in this world who say that evolution runs contrary to their own spiritual beliefs, and I feel a little sad for them. What must it be like, to feel so disconnected from the world? To believe that, rather than sharing a common, tiny, primordial ancestor with all living things on earth, from pine trees to parakeets, you were created as you are and are distinct, are separate from them? Lonely, I imagine.

My religion of evolution, my worship of natural and sexual selection, my veneration of change, fills me with such a sense of kinship to everything around me, to all things seen and unseen. There is iron in my blood, and iron in Calvert Cliffs, and iron in the M-type asteroids in the belt just beyond Mars. I can look at a deer or a raccoon or an eagle or a corn snake or a forty-foot maple tree and know that although our species all evolved to fill different niches, we are all on this planet together because we can trace our lineages back millions upon millions of years, through unimaginable numbers of successful generations, to the same tiny specks in the ocean.

I am never alone. Everything on earth that respires is my distant cousin, made of the same ionic and covalent bonds between billions of tiny, ancient pieces of matter. And I embrace them all. 

Perhaps this is why I’ve fallen in love with collecting fossils. It’s my own little way of meeting my long-lost relatives. A fossilized family reunion, happening here on my bedroom floor.

What a world.

It’s always a good feeling to meet a goal in a timely manner. Finished my first wave of synapsid sketches (not to scale with each other, obviously). Unfortunately, this is as far as you guys are gonna get to see because these are being used for a book proposal, so it wouldn’t feel right for me to post the final artwork until either the book is a go, or more likely until the book is published. 

Done spamming you all with mammal-like reptiles now.

Happy fall!