History/Origins/Future of Energy,
Matter, Space, Time, and Life (3 of 7)
From ~359 Million Years Ago
to ~145 Million Years Ago

(updated August 16, 2009)

Years Ago



~359 million to ~299 million ....

Carboniferous Period
359 Million to 299 Million Years Ago
"... takes its name from large underground coal
deposits that date to it. Formed from prehistoric
vegetation, the majority of these deposits are
found in parts of Europe, North America, and
Asia that were lush, tropically located regions
during the Carboniferous.

Characteristic of the Carboniferous period were its dense and swampy forests, which gave rise to large deposits of peat. Over the eons the peat transformed into rich coal stores in Western Europe and North America. The name "Carboniferous" refers to this coal.

In the U.S., scientists divide the Carboniferous
into two parts: the earlier Mississippian (359.2
million to 318.1 million years ago) and the later
Pennsylvanian (318.1 million to 299 million years

... Carboniferous coal was produced by bark-bear-
ing trees that grew in vast lowland swamp forests.
Vegetation included giant club mosses, tree ferns,
great horsetails, and towering trees with strap-shaped
leaves. Over millions of years, the organic deposits
of this plant debris formed the world's first extensive
coal deposits—coal that humans are still burning

The growth of these forests removed huge amounts
of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leading to
a surplus of oxygen. Atmospheric oxygen levels
peaked around 35 percent, compared with 21 per-
cent today.

This abundance of oxygen sparked an exponential
increase in the size of vascular plants. It also may
explain the giant creepy-crawlies that now emerged
—the size reached by insects and similar creatures
is thought to be limited by the amount of air they
are able to breathe.  ... Most impressive of all were
dragonflies that grew to the size of seagulls. One
exquisitely detailed fossil of a dragonfly that died
320 million years ago shows it had a wingspan of
2.5 feet ...

Amphibians were also growing in size and diversity.
There were predatory species that resembled modern-
day crocodiles. Armed with vicious teeth, they reached
lengths of almost 20 feet ... They also reduced their reli-
ance on wetland habitats through a crucial evolutionary
adaptation known as the amniote egg. This protected
the embryo inside with a fluid-retaining membrane
while still allowing in air. In time, the earliest reptiles
appeared. ...

Africa collided with eastern North America in the late
Pennsylvanian, an event that formed the Appalachian
Mountains. Vast coal swamps stretched across the
lowlands to the west of the rising mountains. By the
end of the Carboniferous, the Earth's landmasses were
moving toward a single, global supercontinent called

10 graphics from the Carboniferous Period

~356 million ....

View of the earth in the early Carboniferous:

~315 million ....

The earliest evidence for the existence
of reptiles has been found in Canada.
"... the hands had five fingers and scales, sure evidence
they were made by reptiles and not amphibians. The
most likely contender was a lizard-like reptile named
Hylonomus lyelli ..."

~306 million ....

View of the earth in the late Carboniferous:

~300 million ....

Walking With Monsters -- Part 4 of 9
"... Carboniferous — Place: Kansas, USA (in a coal forest)
— Oxygen Content: 40% Above Today
— Hazards: Giant Insects

[featured in this part]

  • Petrolacosaurus
  • Arthropleura
  • Meganeura
  • Mesothelae
  • Proterogyrinus ..."
For the first part of the Carboniferous video, see the latter part
of Part 3 in the previous segment. For the last part of the Carbon-
iferous video, see Part 5 below.

~299 million to ~251 million ....

Permian Period
299 Million to 251 Million Years Ago
"... ended in the largest mass extinction the Earth has
ever known, began about 299 million years ago. The
emerging supercontinent of Pangaea presented severe
extremes of climate and environment due to its vast size.

... The lush swamp forests of the Carboniferous were
gradually replaced by conifers, seed ferns, and other
drought-resistant plants.

Early reptiles ... moved in where amphibians had previ-
ously held sway. Over time, they became ideally suited
to the desert-type habitats in which they thrive today.

A sail-backed Dimetrodon forages amid a Permian landscape in this artist's depiction. These primitive predators, though dinosaur-like in appearance, are actually considered the forerunners of mammals. Scientists think their large back fins were used to regulate body temperature.

Being cold-blooded, reptiles had to find ways to deal
with big daily variations in temperature, from below freez-
ing at night to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit ... during the
day. ... Later, other mammal-like reptiles known as therap-
sids found an internal solution to keeping warm—scientists
suspect they eventually became warm-blooded, conserving
heat generated through the breakdown of food. These more
metabolically active reptiles ... became the dominant land
animals of the late Permian.

An artist's depiction shows Lystrosaurs foraging near a stream. Flat-faced with a beak and two teeth that resembled tusks, Lystrosaurs were Synapsids, animals that arose in the Permian and eventually gave rise to mammals.

The Therapsids flourished during the Permian, rapidly evolv-
ing many different forms, ranging from dinosaur-like fanged
flesh-eaters to plodding herbivores. Some species reached
a huge size, weighing in at over a ton. In the latter part of
the Permian, smaller varieties emerged, likely warm-blooded
and covered in insulating hair. From them, mammals would

The Permian seas came to be dominated by bony fishes with
fan-shaped fins and thick, heavy scales. ...

The Permian ... represented the last gasp for much early pre-
historic life. The period ... came to a calamitous close 251
million years ago, marking a biological dividing line that few
animals crossed. The Permian extinction—the worst extinc-
tion event in the planet's history—is estimated to have wiped
out more than 90 percent of all marine species and 70 per-
cent of land animals.

Various theories seek to explain this mass extinction [see
below] ... But whatever the cause, new animals and plants
would evolve to fill the void. Not least among them: the

12 graphics from the Permian Period

~280 million ....

Click-drag virtual reality display of the earth's
climate and continental drift from the present day
back to ~280 million years ago:

Walking With Monsters -- Parts 5 & 6 of 9
Carboniferous / Early Permian
"... 280 Million Years Ago — Early Permian
— Place: Bromacker Quarry, Thuringia, Germany
— Global Temp: 20% Colder Than Today
— Hazards: Extreme Seasons

[featured in this part]

  • Dimetrodon
  • Edaphosaurus
  • Seymouria ..."

~260 million ....

Early human relative predates even dinosaurs
Tree-dwelling vertebrate, just identified, lived
260 million years ago
... More than 15 near-complete skeletons of
the 260-million-year-old animal, named Suminia
getmanovi, reveal that it was built for an arboreal
lifestyle. ...

~255 million ....

View of the earth in the late Permian:

~250 million .... 

Walking With Monsters -- Part 7 of 9
Late Permian
"... 250 Million Years Ago — Late Permian
 — Place: Siberia
 — Global Temp: 60% Hotter Than Today
 — Hazards: Extreme Heat, Volcanic Activity

[featured in this part]

  • Gorgonops
  • Rhinesuchus
  • Diictodon (gender-identified as male)
  • Scutosaurus
  • Labyrinthodont ..."
Siberian Traps

The Day the Earth Nearly Died
"250 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the
Earth, the land and oceans teemed with life. This was the
Permian, a golden era of biodiversity that was about to
come to a crashing end. ... 95% of the lifeforms on the
planet would be wiped out, in the biggest mass extinction
Earth has ever known. What natural disaster could kill on
such a massive scale? 

... a region of Siberia known as the Traps. Today it's a sub-
Arctic wilderness but 250 million years ago, over 200,000km
of it was a blazing torrent of lava. The Siberian Traps were
experiencing a 'flood basalt eruption', the biggest volcanic
effect on Earth. Instead of isolated volcanoes spewing out
lava, the crust split and curtains of lava were released. And
the Siberian flood eruption lasted for millions of years.

... returned to the Siberian Trap data to estimate the amount 
of carbon dioxide - and global warming - that could result. 
His worst case scenario is a temperature rise of 5C, enough 
to kill off many species but not the 95% wipeout that ended 
the Permian.

... it seems likely there were two Permian killers. The Siber-
ian Traps did erupt, contributing first to a nuclear winter cool-
ing effect (caused by dust) and and then to global warming
(due to greenhouse gases). Over 40,000 years, some land
animals gradually died out while life in the seas lived relatively
calmly on, as the water temperature gently rose. 

Then the seas gave up their frozen methane [due to the rise
of 5C caused by the Siberian Trap eruptions]. In just 5,000
years, there was massive loss of species from the world's

In a third and final phase of the extinction, the Permian killer
returned to stalk the land for another 35,000 years [due to
a total rise of 10C from the combination of the Siberian
Trap eruptions + the temperature rise from the melting of
the frozen methane]. By the end of that process, 95% of
the Earth's species were extinct."

~250-251 million to ~199 million ....

Triassic Period
250 Million to 199 Million Years Ago
"The start of the Triassic period (and the Mesozoic
era) was a desolate time in Earth's history. Something
... had triggered the extinction of more than 90 percent
of Earth's species. ... Life that survived the so-called
Great Dying repopulated the planet, diversified into
freshly exposed ecological niches, and gave rise to
new creatures, including rodent-size mammals and
the first dinosaurs.

By the start of the Triassic, all the Earth's landmasses
had coalesced to form Pangaea, a supercontinent
shaped like a giant C that straddled the Equator and
extended toward the Poles. Almost as soon as the
supercontinent formed, it started to come undone. By
the end of the period 199 million years ago, tectonic
forces had slowly begun to split the supercontinent in
two: Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south.

The giant ocean called Panthalassa surrounded Pangaea. 

... The Tethys Ocean filled the C and was the zipper upon
which Pangaea began to split apart. Earlier failed attempts
at the split formed rift valleys in North America and Africa
filled with red sediments that today contain the best pre-
served fossils of Triassic life. 

The oceans teemed with the coiled-shelled ammonites,
mollusks, and sea urchins that survived the Permian extinc-
tion and were quickly diversifying. The first corals appeared,
though other reef-building organisms were already present. 

Giant reptiles such as the dolphin-shaped ichthyosaurs and
the long-necked and paddle-finned plesiosaurs preyed on
fish and ancient squid. 

An artist's depiction captures the burst of new life that occurred in the early- to mid-Triassic period. Massive extinctions at the end of the preceding Permian period allowed the plants and animals that survived to grow and diversify relatively free of competition and predators. These conditions gave rise to the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and early crocodilians.

An artist's depiction shows a Herrerasaurus lurking in a forest in what is now Argentina as smaller animals hide in the undergrowth. Herrerasaur fossils are among the oldest ever discovered, dating back about 228 million years to the mid-Triassic.

An artist's rendering shows hatchling Nothosaurs heading for the safety of water as a hungry but terrestrial Ticinosuchus attacks near a lagoon in ancient Switzerland. Nothosaurs lived during the mid- and late Triassic period and were among the earliest reptiles to take to the sea. 

The bottom rung of the food chain was filled with micro-
scopic plants called phytoplankton; two of the major
groups still in the oceans today first appeared.

Frogs, salamanders, crocodiles, turtles, and snakes slunk
and slithered on and off the Triassic coast, lakes, and rivers.

Pterosaurs, a group of flying reptiles, took to the air.

Like their cousins the dinosaurs, pterosaurs stand out as one of evolution's great success stories. They first appeared during the Triassic period, 215 million years ago, and thrived for 150 million years before going extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. Uncontested in the air, pterosaurs colonized all continents and evolved a vast array of shapes and sizes. This specimen, found in Italy, is Eudimorphodon ranzii, with a wingspan of about three feet & 114 tiny teeth packed into its jaws.

Pterosaurs, like these depicted gliding near an ancient sea, first arose during the Triassic period about 215 million years ago. They endured for 150 million years, colonizing every continent and evolving into more than 120 species. They died out along with the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous.

Pterosaur: The biggest creatures ever to take to the air with wingspans of up to 60 feet – twice the size of some light aircraft.

On firm ground, moss, liverwort, and ferns carpeted forests
of conifers, ginkgoes, and palm-like cycads.

Spiders, scorpions, millipedes, and centipedes thrived. Grass-
hoppers appeared.

But perhaps the biggest changes came with the evolution of
dinosaurs and the first mammals in the late Triassic, starting
around 230 million years ago. ...  

Megazostrodon is the poster critter for the transition between the therapsids ("mammal-like reptiles") of the Triassic period and the small, mouselike early mammals of the Jurassic and Cretaceous. 

Among the first dinosaurs was the two-footed carnivore Coelophysis, which grew up to 9 feet ... tall, weighed up to a hundred pounds ... and probably fed on small reptiles and amphibians. It showed up about 225 million years ago.

A few million years later came the 27.5-foot-long ... herbivore
called Plateosaurus.

The Triassic closed in the same way it began. Something
—perhaps a volcanic belch or an asteroid collision—caused
another mass extinction. Dinosaurs, however, survived and
went on to dominate the Jurassic.

12 graphics from the Triassic Period

~248 million ....

Walking With Monsters -- Part 8 of 9
Late Permian / Triassic
"... 248 Million Years Ago — Triassic
 — Place: Antarctica
 — Global Temp: 40% Hotter Than Today
 — Hazards: Ambush Predators

[featured in this part]
  • Diictodon is seen evolving into the larger Lystrosaurus
  • small insectivorous Euparkeria that is depicted as an ancestor of the dinosaurs
  • Aeshna (animated as dragonfly)
  • pack of venomous therocephalians
  • numerous Proterosuchus
  • Euparkeria is confronted by a chasmatosaur and evolves into an
    Allosaurus, heralding the imminent dominance of the dinosaurs ..."
See parts 6 & 7 above for the earlier parts of the
Late Permian videos.

~237 million ....

View of earth in the early Triassic:

~230 million ....

Appearance of that most successful of reptiles,
the crocodiles.

Oldest dinosaurs ever, Prosauropods who walked
the earth 225 to 230 million years ago, discovered;
the creatures had small heads and long necks and
could walk on two or four legs and they ate only
plants; their remains were found in Madagascar:

Age of the dinosaurs:

~225 million ....

First mammals, small and nocturnal, inhabit small
niches in a dinosaur world; original amphibians
(labyrinthodonts) become extinct; ammonites
flourish in the sea; dinosaurs evolving during this
period (Triassic) include the winged Pterosaur,
Dicynodants, Herrerasaurus, Plateosaurus,
Ornithosuchus, Coelophysis, Melenosaurus,
Eoraptor, Staurikosaurus.

~220 million ....

A small, lizard-like creature that lived 220 million years
ago has re-ignited the debate about the evolution of
birds by seriously questioning whether they evolved
from dinosaurs; the animal, Longisquama insignis,
had elongated structures on its back and arms that
look very much like the feathers of modern birds:

New Blood - Life in the late Triassic

Walking With Dinosaurs -- New Blood
"... 220 million years ago — Late Triassic — Arizona

Filming location: New Caledonia

Conditions: semi-desert with short rainy season. In
the year of the episode, the rains are late.

[featured in this episode]
  • Coelophysis
  • Placerias
  • Cynodont (identified as Thrinaxodon in the encyclopedia)
  • Postosuchus
  • Peteinosaurus
  • Plateosaurus
  • Lungfish
  • Dragonfly (live acted)
  • unidentified Phytosaur (in book)
  • unidentified Metoposaur (in book) ..."

~210 million ....

Some dinosaurs moved their feet in much the same
way as modern birds according to scientists who have
studied 210-million-year-old fossilised footprints in

~200 million ....

Manicouagan Impact Crater
"... Manicouagan Crater in northern Canada is one
of the oldest impact craters known. Formed about
200 million years ago, the present day terrain sup-
ports a 70-kilometer diameter hydroelectric reser-
voir in the telltale form of an annular lake.

The crater itself has been worn away by the passing
of glaciers and other erosional processes. Still, the
hard rock at the impact site has preserved much of
the complex impact structure and so allows scientists
a leading case to help understand large impact features
on Earth and other Solar System bodies.

Also visible above is the vertical fin of the Space Shuttle
Columbia from which the picture was taken in 1983. ..."

~199 million to ~145 million ....

Jurassic Period
199 Million to 145 Million Years Ago
"... Dinosaurs, birds, and rodents. Crumbling land-
masses and inland seas. Sea monsters, sharks, and
blood-red plankton. Forests of ferns, cycads, and
conifers. Warm, moist, tropical breezes. This was
the Jurassic.

At the start of the period, the breakup of the super-
continent Pangaea continued and accelerated. Laur-
asia, the northern half, broke up into North America
and Eurasia. Gondwana, the southern half, began to
break up by the mid-Jurassic.

The eastern portion—Antarctica, Madagascar, India,
and Australia—split from the western half—Africa
and South America. New oceans flooded the spaces
in between. Mountains rose on the seafloor, pushing
sea levels higher and onto the continents.

All this water gave the previously hot and dry climate
a humid and drippy subtropical feel. Dry deserts slowly
took on a greener hue. ...

The oceans, especially the newly formed shallow interior
seas, teemed with diverse and abundant life.

At the top of the food chain were the long-necked and
paddle-finned plesiosaurs, giant marine crocodiles, sharks,
and rays. Fishlike ichthyosaurs, squidlike cephalopods,
and coil-shelled ammonites were abundant.

Coral reefs grew in the warm waters, and sponges, snails,
and mollusks flourished. Microscopic, free-floating plankton
proliferated and may have turned parts of the ocean red.

Huge Dinosaurs

On land, dinosaurs were making their mark in a big way
 — literally.

Brachiosaurs congregate along the coast in this artist's depiction. At up to 92 feet & 50 tons, these sauropods (large, herbivorous dinosaurs) were much larger than any land animal alive today. Long, lean limbs, high shoulders, and a 30-foot-long neck allowed Brachiosaurus to graze from the treetops of North America and parts of Africa, where its fossils have been found.

A Brachiosaurus as seen next to humans in the movie "Jurassic Park". 

Diplodocus, another sauropod, was 90 feet ... long.

These dinosaurs' sheer size may have deterred attack from
Allosaurus, a bulky, meat-eating dinosaur that walked on
two powerful legs. But Allosaurus and other fleet-footed
carnivores, such as the coelurosaurs, must have had occa-
sional success.

An Allosaurus tramps through a Mesozoic-era forest in this artist's depiction. Allosaurus was the top predatory dinosaur of the late Jurassic period in North America. Not a particularly fast runner, it likely ambushed unsuspecting prey as it passed by.

Other prey included the heavily armored stegosaurs.

The late Jurassic Stegosaurus, like the pair walking through a North American forest in this illustration, was a slow-moving, plant-eating dinosaur that grew as long as 30 feet and as much as 2 tons. Its most impressive feature was a row of large plates and tail spines down the length of its back—some more than three feet tall.

The earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx, took to the skies
in the late Jurassic, most likely evolved from an early coelu-
rosaurian dinosaur. Archaeopteryx had to compete for air-
space with pterosaurs, flying reptiles that had been buzzing
the skies since the late Triassic.

The late-Jurassic Archaeopteryx lithographica, shown here with legs akimbo and wings outspread, is believed by many to be the world's first bird. Found in the Solnhofen Limestone Formation in Bavaria, Germany, Archaeopteryx lithographica possessed developed wings that probably allowed it to fly for short distances.

Meanwhile, insects such as leafhoppers and beetles were
abundant, and many of Earth's earliest mammals scurried
around dinosaur feet—ignorant that their kind would come
to dominate Earth once the dinosaurs were wiped out at
the end of the Cretaceous.

Jurassic Period Graphics
Egg-laying mammals (monotremes) evolve separately
from other mammals:

Click-drag virtual reality display of continental drift
resulting in the breakup of the super-continent of
Pangea, from ~200 million years ago to the present

Welcome to Jurassic Park

~195 million ....

View of the earth in the early Jurassic:

Dinosaurs evolving during this period (Jurassic)
include Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Dryosaurus,
Ornitholestes, Compsagnathus, Megalosaurus,
Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus,
Dicraeosaurus, Mamenchisaurus, Leptoceratops,
Centrosaurus; evolution of Icthyosaurus, a marine

~165 million ....

Gondwana Flood Basalts & Sills
"When the Gondwana supercontinent fragmented
into Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa, Australia
and Antarctica in the Jurassic era (about 165Myr
bp), the fractures resulted in enormous outpourings
of basalt, not only along the spreading axes now
seen as mid-oceanic ridges but along transverse
faults extending into the continents where we now
see the continental flood basalts. ..."

~161 million to ~155 million ....

"... X-FACTOR: Shoulder spikes
WHEN:       161-155 million years ago
WHERE:     China

With a thorny tail and rows of bony plates along its
back, Tuojiangosaurus, like its better known cousin
Stegosaurus, resembles a Jurassic tank. What grants
this ponderous Chinese herbivore admission to the
ranks of the truly bizarre, however, is the long, taper-
ing spike thrusting out from each shoulder."

~160 million ....


"... X-FACTOR: Tiny body, elongated finger
WHEN:       160 million years ago
WHERE:     China

At the diminutive end of the extreme dinosaur spectrum
perches tiny Epidendrosaurus, a sparrow-size theropod
with grossly oversize hands. Described in 2002 by pale-
ontologists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, it is the
smallest known dinosaur, excluding birds, though scien-
tists remain unsure whether the bones and impressions 
discovered in siltstone in Inner Mongolia, are those of
an adult or a juvenile."  

~152 million ....

View of the earth in the late Jurassic:

Time of the Titans - Dinosaurs of the Jurassic

Walking With Dinosaurs -- Time of the Titans
"... 152 million years ago — Late Jurassic — Colorado

Filming locations: Redwood National Park (Fern Canyon),
California, Tasmania, New Zealand

Conditions: warm with mixture of forest and fern-prairies.

[featured in this episode]
  • Diplodocus
  • Allosaurus
  • Ornitholestes
  • Stegosaurus
  • Brachiosaurus
  • Anurognathus
  • unidentified small Ornithopod (possibly Drinker)
  • another species of unidentified Ornithopod in a different skin color (possibly Othnielia)
  • Damselfly (live acted)
  • Dung beetle (live acted)
  • Coelurus (in book)
~150 million ....

Fossil evidence suggests mammal-like reptiles
and some dinosaurs could internally regulate their

~149 million ....

A Cruel Sea - When Reptiles Ruled the Waves

Walking With Dinosaurs -- Cruel Sea
"... 149 million years ago — Late Jurassic — Oxfordshire

Filming locations: Bahamas, New Caledonia

Conditions: Chain of islands surrounded by shallow seas,
periodically subjected to intense tropical storms.

[featured in this episode]
  • Ophthalmosaurus
  • Cryptoclidus
  • Hybodus (identified as shark, revealed on website and in encyclopedia)
  • Leptolepis (identified as fish, revealed in website, live-acted by herring)
  • Rhamphorhynchus
  • Eustreptospondylus
  • Liopleurodon
  • Perisphinctes (identified as ammonite, revealed in book)
  • Horseshoe crabs (live acted)
  • Jellyfish (live acted)
  • Squid (live acted)
  • Bark beetle (live acted)
  • Unidentified turtle carcass
~145 million ....

Wings for speed:

Bones make feathers fly:

--- end 3 of 7 ---