Vertebrate Paleontology

What animals roamed the Earth during the Triassic period?
Answered by Discovery Channel
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  1. There weren't many dinosaurs early in the Triassic period, but the Pangaea landmass was awash in reptiles and amphibians. Therapsids were mammal-like reptiles, the most powerful animal of that period. There were different types of therapsids, including labyrinthodonts, procolophonids, dicynodonts and cynodonts. Meanwhile, the lystrosaurus was a dicynodont about the size of a dog. Its fossils have been found all over the world. And archosaurs started out as minor players in the Triassic animal kingdom. However, they were probably the forbears of dinosaurs, pterosaurs and crocodiles. Some archosaurs evolved into aquatic phytosaurs. Also of note was the Euparkeria, which stood upright and did not have any teeth.

    The Triassic period was a time of change, with some plants becoming extinct and others starting to proliferate. Ferns, cycads and conifers were common during this period. Although they weren't well established until the Early Cretaceous period, the Late Triassic period saw the beginning of the Sanmiguelia, which might have been the forebear of today's flowering plants.

    The Middle Triassic period, for its part, was notable for the many changes that took place. Suddenly, there were more carnivores and four-legged predators. Included in this group were the Prestosuchidae, Rauisuchidae and the Gracilisuchus, all of which were forebears to crocodiles.

    Scientists who believe that birds evolved from theocodonts, a group of small reptiles with four legs that likely lived in trees, say that the birds' ancestors appeared in the Middle Triassic period [source: Smithsonian]. They also say that the birds and dinosaurs developed similar characteristics due to a process called convergent evolution, where unrelated organisms evolve independently but have similar features. Paleontologists have discovered fossils that point out plenty of similarities between birds and dinosaurs, such as a fine down covering on the predecessor to Tyrannosaurus rex and the fossil of a small sleeping dinosaur that had its head tucked under a front limb in a bird-liked pose.

    Prevailing theories say that birds descended from theropods, carnivorous, bipedal dinosaurs [source: PBS]. These dinosaurs lived on Earth in the late Triassic and early Jurassic periods.

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