The Therapsids

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"Living  Large"  –  the Dinocephalians Waddle Forth
At the beginning of the Late Permian, both the meat- and plant-eating 'horrible heads' reigned together in an uneasy alliance.  Predators and prey formed an ecosystem that was stable  –  for a time.

In the early Permian, three great, ancient continents covered the globe – Gondwana in the south, Laurentia and Eurasia in the north*. By the mid-Permian, these three land masses had fused, forming a new super- continent – Pangea. Much of the northern world was tropical but the southern lands had recently been covered with glaciers. What we now call Africa was a very different place then – dry and cool with icefields still clinging to the highest spots. Melt-water cut channels into glacier- scoured soil and hardy plants edged these few moist areas. This was a harsh land but, as the temperatures warmed, near-plantless Gondwana turned green. In this newly welcoming environment, therapsids thrived.

The Dinocephalian Food Chain:   Anteosaurus magnificus dine on Struthiocephalus kitchingi  –  top left
Representing the pinnacle of dinocephalian predator evolution, Anteosaurus ('the before or early reptile' – skull 65cm) shared the heat-conserving body features of its plant-eating kin.   Almost as big as its prey,  poor Struthio- cephalus ('ostrich head' – skull 80cm), Anteosaurus was likely a brute force hunter. Chase 'em, bite 'em, tear 'em into bitty pieces. No finesse for these guys!  But, did therapsid predators really hunt in groups?  We don't know. Certainly the therapsids lacked the brain power for the cooperative hunting practiced by modern mammals such as wolves or lions. But, some reptiles do work together: egg-raiding monitor lizards may attack in pairs, and crocodiles 'help' each other (intentionally, or otherwise) dismember prey by pulling or twisting gobbets of flesh away from one another. Besides, with prey the size of Struthiocephalus, even the most anti-social of diners could afford to share.

*  The continents are carried on huge plates that constantly move, drifting and spinning in ultra slow-motion. Like giant bumper-cars, they crash together, then pull apart again. Therapsids migrated into some areas only to be cut off again. From this isolation, new species arose.

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Dinocephalian World
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