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Our Day return guarantee still applies. Bookseller Completion Rate This reflects the percentage of orders the seller has received and filled. Advanced Book Search Browse by Subject. Make an Offer. Terrestrial faunas of the early Triassic were dominated by therapsids, evolutionary offshoots of the by-then extinct "sail-backs". These therapsids divided into two groups: herbivores and carnivores. The therapsids of this time may have had some sort of "hair" as a body covering as well as some degree of endothermy.

By the close of the Triassic therapsids had given rise to early mammals. Reconstruction of Lystrosaurus , a southern hemisphere therapsid L and Thrinaxodon R , a therapsid reconstructed with hair and very mammalian features. Reconstructions of Lystrosaurus top or left and Thrinaxodon bottom or right.

The ancestors of modern turtles appeared during the Triassic. Whereas modern turtles have lost their teeth, these Triassic turtles retained teeth on their jaws. Another reptile group, the euryapsids, made the transition from land to sea during the Triassic. These swimming reptiles diverged into three groups during the Triassic: the ichthyosaurs dolphin-shaped swimming reptiles , the placodonts bulky, paddle-limbed reptiles that went extinct by the end of the Triassic , and the nothosaurs streamlined, long-necked swimming predators. Display of two placodont skeletons assigned to the genus Placodus.

Reconstruction of the early ichthyosaur Cymbospondylus. Later ichthyosaurs became much more dolphin-like. Composite of an early Triassic ichthyosaur. Note the shape is not so much fish-like as lizard-like, reflecting the recent move of these creatures from land to the sea. Skull and some of the upper body of Nothosaurus , from the Triassic of Germany. Reconstruction of Nothosaurus as it might have looked when feeding.

The diapsids, the "reptiles" except for turtles and a few extinct forms, rose to prominence during the latter Triassic times. Diapsids, you recall, have two openings in the skull behind the eye socket. While the diapsids had originated possibly as far back as the late Carboniferous, they did not become major elements of the fauna until the Triassic. The major group of diapsids, the archosaurs ruling reptiles evolved in the later part of the Permian, and underwent a major adaptive radiation in the late Triassic.

Today only the birds and crocodiles remain of the once dominant ruling reptile group. The first true crocodiles also appeared during the Triassic. Several other reptile groups, such as the Triassic phytosaurs, adapted to the environment that crocodiles lived in.

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Due to evolutionary convergence , these animals took on an outer semblance of crocodiles, even though there were numerous anatomical differences. The ancestral crocodiles fully occupied the phytosaur niche in the environment after the extinction of phytosaurs at the close of the Triassic. One early archosaur was Euparkeria , a small, Triassic-aged, quadrupedal reptile that some scientists think may have been able to run short distances on its hind legs.

Euparkeria specimens reach about 0. The genus appears restricted to the Triassic of South Africa. Another archosaur, at one time considered a dinosaur, was Herrerasaurus , from the Triassic of Argentina. This animal marked the transition between the archosaur stem group and the derived dinosaurs. In all but a few characteristics Herrerasaurus is a dinosaur, although a smallish one of meters in length and a body weight estimated at around kg..

Eoraptor, from the same age and area, was another archosaur with a mosaic of dinosaurian and nondinosaurian characteristics. Reconstruction of Herrerasaurus. The Triassic saw the evolution of the first true dinosaurs, the ceratosaurians, or horned dinosaurs. These bipedal, carnivorous dinosaurs have skeletons with a number of bird-like features. Famous members of this group include Dilophosaurus and Coelophysis. Coelophysis and similar dinosaurs are known from other Triassic rocks throughout Pangaea. Unlike the specimen shown in the movie Jurassic Park , Dilophosaurus did not have a wide fringe nor is ther any evidence that it spit venom.

Over the Heads of Dinosaurs: Pterosaurs

But then, you know how movies are, right? Dilophosaurus was a slender meters long dinosaur that weighed an estimated kg. Coelophysis was less than 3 meters long and weighed a slight kg. Reconstruction of Dilophosaurus. The dinosaurs have traditionally been classified into two distinct taxonomic classes, the saurischia lizard-hipped and ornithischia bird-hipped. This divergence was accomplished by the close of the Triassic. The ancestors of dinosaurs were some unspecified thecodont earlier in the Triassic. The Saurischia, which includes Dilophosaurus and Coelophysis , has two main groups, the theropods and the sauropods.

The theropods were bipedal carnivores that included the famous Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex as well as birds. Sauropods and similar forms were quadrupedal, mostly herbovorous forms that include the giants of the Jurassic: Apatosaurus , Diplodicus , and Brachiosaurus. The recently discovered Arizona dinosaur Sonorasaurus belongs in this group as well. Ornithischians were all herbivourous, with some retaining a bipedal gait, and others returning to four legs, and included: the ornithopods such as Trachodon and Maiasaurus , ceratopsians such as Triceratops , and the stegosaurians including Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus.

Mammals also evolved during the Triassic, at about the same time as the dinosaurs. However, Triassic mammals were small and inconsequential components of the Triassic ecosystems. Pangaea reached its greatest extent during the Triassic. The conditions from the Permian dry continental interiors, few if any shallow marginal continental seas continued. Around the middle of the Triassic the breakup of Pangaea began, with the supercontinent separating into two landmasses, Gondwana in the south composed of the future continents of South America, Africa, India, Antarctica, and Australia and Laurasia in the north Asia and North America.

The breakup of Pangaea also resulted in mountain-building along the western edges of North and South America. Reconstruction of Triassic continents. At the end of the Triassic a minor mass extinction occurred. The cause of this is still in dispute, although the consensus opinion involves global cooling associated with an asteroid impact or comet showers. The victims of this event included the labyrinthodont amphibians , conodonts, and all marine reptiles except ichthyosaurs.

Thecodonts , brachiopods , gastropods, and molluscs also suffered a loss of diversity as did the synapsids. As with larger mass extinctions, the Triassic die off opened ecological spaces into which the dinosaurs and other creatures moved during the Jurassic. The Jurassic period spanned the time interval from to million years ago. The major events of the Jurassic were the explosive adaptive radiation of dinosaurs and the evolution of birds sometimes referred to as the avian dinosaurs , the diversification of the cycads, seed ferns and the "cycadeoids", and the continued breakup of Pangaea.

The opening of the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and North America created new shallow-water environments, as did the global rise of sea-levels that occurred during the Jurassic. As you might expect, marine life responded with a burst of adaptation and the appearance of new forms. The separation of Pangaea caused the formation of new oceans, such as the Atlantic.

It also led to a global rise in sea-level. Consequently there were many more environmental spaces open for exploitation. Since the Trissic extinction was not nearly as calamitous as the Permian one, life rebounded much quicker. Dinoflagellates and coccoliths became major elements of the oceanic phytoplankton. The bivalves, specifically the rudistids, began to play a larger role in reef formation.

Two bivalves from the Jurassic of Germany. Thecosmilia sp. The cephalopods again produced a new coiled, chambered form, the ammonites. Suture patterns of these forms were even more elaborate than those found in the Triassic ceratites. The belemnites were straight-shelled cephalopods with elaborate suture patterns.

Dactyliceras commune , an ammonite from the early Jurassic of Withby, Yorkshire, England. A complete specimen is shown on the left, while a sectioned specimen is on the right.

The ichthyosaurs had been virtually unaffected by the Triassic extinction. During the Jurassic they reached their peak of diversity and prevalence ecologically. Whereas the triassic forms had resembled swimming lizards, Jurassic and later forms took on increasngly fish-like shapes.

Stenopterygius hauffianus, an ichthyosaur from the Jurassic of Holzmaden, Germany. Stenopterygius quadriscissus was a Jurassic ichthyosaur a reptile which reached lenghts of feet. Large eyes provided for keen sight. Unlike otherswimming reptiles which could come out on land to lay eggs, the ichthyosaurs gave birth to live young, eliminating the need to leave the water.

In addition to ichthyosaurs, Jurassic seas also contained long-necked plesiosaurs. Plesiosaurs evolved at the end of the Triassic, most likely from nothosaurs, and diversified during the Jurassic, persisting until the terminal Cretaceous event that closed the Mesozoic era. While most of us think of plesiosaurs as having long necks, there are also short-necked forms.

Unlike the ichthyosaurs, which swam in a fishlike manner, plesiosaurs swam by using their paddle-like limbs in a manner similar to that of a sea lion or seal. Plesiosaurs did not give birth to live young, but instead crawled ashore to lay eggs as turtles do. Plesiosaurus macrocephalus was a Jurassic pleisiosaur a swimming reptile from England. They reached a length of about 3 meters. These animals arose at the start of the Jurassic and continued through the Cretaceous.

Mary Anning, a 19th century fossil collector from England. Although she had no formal training, Mary was recognized as the premiere fossil collector of her time. Among her finds are the first well-preserved ichythosaurs and the first plesiosaurs. The Jurassic terrestrial environments saw an increase in gymnosperm groups such as the cycads, ginkgoes, and cycadeoids. Reptilian groups also became more adept at flying, while the dinosaurs grew in size with such giants as Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus , and ferocious predators like Allosaurus. The first birds appeared, as did the most famous fossil bird, Archaeopteryx.

The Jurassic was a time of increasing diversity for the cycads and a similar-looking group, the cycadeoids. The cycadeoids, sometimes known as the Bennettitales, produced leaves that superficially resembled cycad leaves. However, details of the reproductive structures indicate the two were not closely related. During the Mesozic leaves of these groups were so common that paleobotanists refer to the era as the age of cycads. The modern cycads are a pale remnant of the dominant plants of the Mesozoic, with today only species in 11 genera, confined to the tropics.

Cycads retain some fern-like features, notably pinnate leaves and circinate vernation. However, they usually produce cones of nonphotosynthetic reproductive structures. These cones are unisexual, in fact the plants are dioecious, having separate male and female plants. Based on structure of the leaf cuticle, cycads are usually separated from the cycadeoids. A number of leaf genera from the Mesozoic have been assigned to the cycads: Taeniopteris and Nilssonia. The cycadeoids superficially resemble cycads in having recurrent leaf bases on soft-wood stems.

Unlike the cycads, however, the cycadeoids have bisexual reproductive structures and structure of their stomates more like what is found in angiosperms and gnetophytes. Their reproductive structures were at one time interpreted as flowers and the cycadeoids were suggested as ancestors to the flowering plants. Cladistic analyses, such as Doyle and Donoghue , suggest the cycadeoids and the flowering plants belong to the same clade, the anthophyte clade, but that cycadeoids are not the sister group for the angiosperms. Williamsonia sewardiana , a cycadeoid.

Image taken from Prehistoric Animals, J. Augusta, illust. Burian, Paul Hamilyn, London, , pl. The ginkgoes, like the cycads, originated during the late Paleozoic and diversified during the Mesozoic. Beginning during the Jurassic the number of species increased to a maximum of 11 during the Cretaceous before the decline to the single species, Ginkgo biloba , that remains today. The Mesozoic saw the spread of true conifers, including forms similar to Metasequioia and Sequoia , as well as numerous types of pines.

A wide variety of extinct gymnosperms were present, including Caytonia and Pentoxylon. The flying reptiles of the Triassic underwent diversification during the Jurassic. The pterosaurs literally winged-lizard consisted of the earlier forms with long tails, like Rhamphorhynchus shown below, and the later forms that ruled the Cretaceous period, the pterodactyls.

The long tailed formns died out by the close of the Jurassic. Pterosaurs had hollow bones, large brains and possibly some had endothermy. The Rhamphorhynchus group of pterosaurs had sharp teeth and most had long tails. Some species, as this one, had short, diamond-shaped "rudders" on the end of their tails. This specimen had about a 3-foot wingspread.

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Cast of a specimen of Pterodactylus sp. In contrast to the Triassic dinosaurs, the Jurassic forms became even larger and more fierce. While most Triassic dinosaurs were saurischians, the ornithischians became more prominent during the Jurassic. The small, bipedal saurischians of the Triassic continued in the Jurassic, as exemplified by Ornithomimus. This dinosaur had no teeth in its jaws, a bird-like head, and a long, ostrich-like neck, was around 3 meters long and weighed approximately kg. The true giants of the finosaur world were the sauropods. These quadrupedal, herbivores included Apatosaurus , Brachiosaurus , and Diplodocus.

Paleontologists believe that the sauropod clade evolved from a Triassic ancestor similar to Plateosaurus. Sauropods ate numerous types of plants, often specializing in plants of a certain height. Since the teeth of sauropods are not adapted for grinding, this mechanical part of the digestive process was accomplished in their stomachs. Sauropod skeletons are often found in association with curiosuly rounded stones in the approximate position of the stomach.

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These "stomach stones" are known as gastroliths, and served a similar function in sauropods as bird gravel does in birds: to aid digestion of plant material not ground up enough in the mouth. Gastroliths are not unique to sauropods, as many other herbivorous dinosaurs and plesiosaurs have been found with stomach stones. Apatosaurus , once much better known as "Brontosaurus", was a herbivore from the Jurassic deposits in the western United States that ranged from 21 to 26 meters long, and had an estimated weight of between 30 and 35 tons. For over years after its discovery, Apatosaurus skeleton was fitted with the wrong head.

During the s the error was discovered and the correct head which had been descxribed separately from the skeleton wwas attached. Owing to the rules of zoological nomenclature, the recponstructed fossil would take the name of the oldest described part, in this case the head. Thus paleontology lost a truly great scientific name, Brontosaurus , which literally means "thunder lizard". The name "Brontosaurus" is invalid and the correct name is Apatosaurus.

Naming was not the only error. Apatosaurus weighed over 30 tons when alive, and early paleontologists considered the animal too heavy to have lived on land. The frequently drew Apatosaurus living in water where the water would help support the animal's weight. In modern reconstructions of the the Apatosaurus environment the vegetation is not swampy but almost desert-like, and Apatosaurus is now considered to have been a fully terrestrial animal. Apatosaurus skeleton as seen in the Chicago Field Museum.

Barchiosaurus 22 to 30 meters long; 30 to 80 tons weight was a larger dinosaur than Apatosaurus , and for many years was considered the heaviest of the sauropods. Brachiosaurs, as shown below, were different from other sauropods in having their forelegs longer than their hind legs, as well as having their nostrils high on the forehead. The largest known doinosaur, Ultrasaurus , either belongs to the brachiosaurs or is in fact a large specimen of Brachiosaurus , according to some paleontologists. Reconstruction of the face of Brachiosaurus. The remaining saurishian dinosaurs were theropods, the bipedal carnivores exemplified by Allosaurus.

Deciphering the evolutionary relationships of the theropods is difficult due to the often fragmentary nature of theropod fossils. Current thought is that there were several groups of theropods, and that one group, the carnosaurids contained the largest of the carnivores such as Allosaurus.

Another theropod group was the coelurosaurids, which containd the birds and smaller carnivores such as ornithomimids, "raptors", and the tyrannosaurs. The carnosaurs, such as the Jurassic-aged Allosaurus , had long narrow skulls, strong forelimbs, and a variety of horns or knobs projecting from the skull.

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Allosaurus skeleton displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. One of the hottest topics of discussion for years was the hypothesis, proposed by Charles Darwin, that birds were descendants of dinosaurs. The shared derived characteristics of birds and dinosaurs include the structure of the hip, egg-laying, as well as a great deal of anatomical similarity. The discovery of Archaeopteryx , the "first bird" added fuel to this discussion.

Archaeopteryx has a skeleton that retains a number of dinosaurian traits such as scales on the neck, teeth in the mouth, a jointed tail, and grasping fingers on the wings. It also has avian characteristics such as hollow bones and flight feathers. Many "dinosaur" specimens have, upon the discovery of feathers, been reassigned to fossil bird species. The discovery of feathers on some dinosaurs has further blurred what was once a clear-cut distinction between birds and dinosaurs. Cladistic analyses have repeatedly shown that birds and some groups of dinosaurs form a well-defined clade.


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Most paleontologists today feel safe in stating that birds are dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx , once considered the first bird. The fossil is from the Solnhoefen Limestone Jurassic of Germany. Reconstruction of Archaeopteryx. There have been other fossils interpreted as birds, specifically Protoavis from the Triassic of Texas and Confuscornis from the Jurassic of China. While some paleontologists accept Protoavis as representing a bird that is closer to modern birds than is Archaeopteryx , there is an equally large camp who consider Protoavis as an early dinosaur that had evolved several bird-like adaptations by convergent evolution.

Confuciusornis sanctus , the oldest bird with a beak, from Liaoning Province, China. This species retained some of the primitive features seen in Archaeoptyeryx , such as free claws on the wing, along with more advanced features such as the lack of teeth in the bill. The consensus view is that the coelurosaurs are the dinosaurian group from which the "avian dinosaurs" evolved. Members of this group include the small predatory dinosaurs such as Compsognathus again a star of the Jurassic Park movies , and Velociraptor.

The ornithischian dinosaurs became more significant elements of the dinosaurian faunas during the Jurassic, and especially so during the Cretaceous period. The ornoithischians are the so-called bird-hipped dinosaurs. However, the resemblance of hip structure between birds and this group is no longer considered evidence for the rise of birds from ornithischians, but as a result of convergent evolution. A major group of ornithischians during the Jurassic was the stegosaourids, exemplified by the genus Stegosaurus , the state dinosaur of Colorado.

These quadrupedal animals sported spiked tails and large flat armor plates arrayed along the spine. These plates functioned for regulation of body heat. Stegosaurus was about 9 meters long and weighed about 2 tons. Even among dinosaurs it is noteworthy for its incredibly small brain. Stegosaurus in foreground under a gymnosperm tree and a tree fern, with a flying reptile in the background. The ankylosaurs were the armored ornithischians.

They appeared in Europe during the late Jurassic and became more abundant during the Cretaceous. Ankylosaurs bore armor and spikes on their backs and may have defended themselves by using their tails which often had armor balls at the tips and by their dense back armor. Another group of ornithischians was the ornithopods. Among the earliest ornithopods was Camptosaurus , a 17 foot long Jurassic dinosaur from Europe and North America.

Camptosaurus reached Australia by the early Cretaceous. During the Cretaceous the ornithopods became much more diverse. The major geological events of the Jurassic involved the continued separation of the former parts of Pangaea. During this period the northern Atlantic continued to open, with a small connection remaining between North America and Europe.

In the southern hemisphere the former parts of Gondwana completely separated, with Antarctica and Australia being the last of the modern southern continents to form. Great seaways flooded most of the continents, possibly caused by the increased rates of sea-floor formation at the newly forming mid-Atlantic ridge.

Active tectonic plate margins along the then-western coasts of the Americas began or continued the mountain-building that would become the Rocky Mountains in North America and the Andes Mountains in South America. Reconstruction of the continents during the late Jurassic. The Jurassic saw two minor mass extinctions. The first of these occurred about one-third of the way through the period, during the early Jurassic. At the close of the Jurassic, about million years ago, a second minor mass extinction happened, affecting mostly the ammonoids, marine reptiles, bivalves and certain dinosaur groups such as the stegosaurs and the giant sauropods.

Only one stegosaur escaped this extinction, Dravidosaurus , a small stegosaurid restricted to the Cretaceous of India which was an island at that time. The causes of both of these extinctions are not clear. The Cretaceous period, spanning the time interval from to 65 million years ago, saw the final phases of the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the northward migration of India toward its collision with Asia during the Tertiary period of the Cenozoic era. The last of the major forms of plant life, the angiosperms, appeared near the beginning of the period.

Dinosaurs continued their diversification, with the increasing dominance of the herbivorous ornithischians. The Cretaceous ended with the famous mass extinction that resulted in the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs, the swimming reptiles, pterosaurs, ammonites and other creatures, nearly three-fourths of all life on Earth in fact. The bivalves recovered from the Jurassic extinctions and again became major reef-formers in the numerous shallow marginal seas that encroached onto the continents during the Cretaceous.

Reconstruction of a Cretaceous seafloor. Note the large ammonite on the right, the belemnites in the center, and the gastropods and bivalves on the seafloor.


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  • Exogyra sp. In this view we see the top of one of the shells. The lower shell was usually quite different in shape. Ammonites continued their dominance, as did their relatives the straight-shelled belemnites. Modern teleost fish appeared during the Cretaceous and may have competed for the same prey as the ammonites. The teleost fish were apparently stronger and swifter swimmers than the fish of the Jurassic.