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Permian flora and fauna

Permian flora and fauna

This 3D scene presents the flora and fauna of the last period of the Palaeozoic Era.

Biology

Keywords

history of the Earth, geologic epoch, Permian period, fossil, living fossil, extinct, prehistoric creature, Gorgonopsia, Dicynodontia, Diplocaulus, Dimetrodon, Bjuvia, Ginkgo biloba, sigillaria, Walchia, Glossopteris, gingko, pteridosperm, Palaeozoic Era, Orthacanthus, reptile, prehistoric reptile, tusk, prey, gymnosperms, biology, vertebrate, plant, flora and fauna, fauna, flora, synapsids, Araucaria

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Flora and fauna

The climate of the last period of the Palaeozoic was warmer and drier compared to the Carboniferous period. The interior of the supercontinent Pangaea became increasingly drier and was characterised by desertification. Due to the climate change, the formerly abundant vegetation became scarcer, new species of plants appeared and mammal-like reptiles began to spread.

The end of the Permian period was marked by the Permian-Triassic extinction event (251 million years ago). Following the eruption of a supervolcano, the gases released into the atmosphere triggered a greenhouse effect, leading to global warming. Due to a 10 °C average increase in temperature, 96% of marine species and 70% of land species died out.

Terrestrial vertebrates

  • Dimetrodon
  • Dicynodontia
  • Gorgonopsid

Dimetrodons were the terrestrial apex predators of the Permian period. In the genus Dimetrodon, we can find 20 different species that measured 1.7 to 4.6 metres in length. Their dorsal sail, which was formed by elongated vertebral spines and skin, was presumably used for thermoregulation and communication.

Dicynodonts were the most widespread terrestrial vertebrates with around 70 genera, varying from the size of a rat to that of an elephant. They had a beak similar to that of turtles on the front part of their mouth, while long tusks grew behind it. These herbivores built their nests in subterranean tunnels.

Gorgonopsids were carnivores. There were 41 species of Gorgonopsids, the smallest of which was not larger than dog-sized, the largest was the size of bears. They had huge sabre-like teeth with which they could cause fatal injuries to their prey.

Aquatic vertebrates

  • Diplocaulus
  • Orthacanthus

In the Permian period, lakes, rivers and swamps had a very rich fauna. Freshwater sharks and larger amphibians occupied the top of the aquatic food chain. Orthacanthus was a freshwater shark, similar in shape to eels. It could measure up to 3 metres in length.

Diplocaulus, which was an amphibian species, became widely known for its unique appearance. From head to tail, the animal measured approximately 1.3 metres in length and weighed 15 kilograms. The protrusions on the sides of its skull made its head look like a boomerang.

Plants

  • Sigillaria - A genus of extinct lycopsids. This 20–30 metres tall plant grew in swamps and its forked trunk was covered with the bases of fallen leaves. It had grass-like leaves.
  • Glossopteris - The largest genus of the extinct order of seed ferns. We can only guess what its shape and size were, as only the fossils of its tongue-shaped leaves have been found so far.
  • Bjuvia - A tree-sized plant with huge leaves and a trunk that resembles that of palms. Its height could reach up to 15 metres.
  • Walchia - One of the earliest conifers. Its height could reach up to 30 metres.
  • Ginkgophyte - The ancestor of the present-day ginkgo. The height of an adult tree can reach up to 20–30 metres.

As a result of the dry climate, the number of Sigillaria and Pteridospermatophyta decreased significantly. In the Permian period, conifers became widespread thanks to their ability to adapt to drier conditions. Walchia was one of the prehistoric conifers. Its leaves were similar to the pine needles of Araucaria.

Cycadales or cycads could also adapt very well to the climate of the Permian period, so they became widespread too. The trunk of these palm tree-sized trees was straight, but some species in the order had barrel-like trunks. Their best-known species is Bjuvia.

Ginkgophytes appeared along the coast, where the climate was more humid. The only extant species of these deciduous plants is Ginkgo biloba, which is considered to be a living fossil.

Arthropoda

  • Apthoroblattina
  • Ponomarenkia belmonthensis
  • Meganeuropsis permiana

The most successful arthropods in the Permian were proto-cockroaches, for example, the genus Apthoroblattina. During this period, the first beetles appeared. Unlike other insects, beetles have hard outer wings, which protects the membranous underwings and provides a humid environment for the spiracles, preventing the animal from dehydration. This increases their chances of survival.

In this period, dragonflies appeared too; some were similar in size to present-day dragonflies, but there were species much larger than those we can see today.

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