STL Science Center

STL Science Center

03 November 2018

New Old Animals

Sphenacodontids ("Wedge point tooth") are a group of synapsids that are known from fossils found across Europe and North America from ages between from the Late Pennsylvanian to the Middle Permian. The most well-known examples of not only sphenacodontids but also pelycosaurs is the large headed apex predator known from Texas and Oklahoma (mostly), Dimetrodon ("Two measures of teeth"). The genus Dimetrodon actually consists of 13 recognized valid species; though we regularly hear Dimetrodon referenced as though it is a single species (generally the type species, D. limbatus Cope 1877). The general description of Dimetrodon species is a group of animals presenting with tall laterally compressed skulls, a large dorsal sail, and a tail composed of upwards of 50 caudal vertebrae, accounting for a significant portion of the total length of the animals. The sail is what most people think of when they think of Dimetrodon, but these pelycosaurs are actually named after their teeth, which consist of 1 - 2 pairs of large caniniform teeth and large incisors in the front of the mouth and smaller teeth caudally. Also intriguing in the skulls of Dimetrodon species are primitive nasal turbinates, appearing to indicate a capability of warming and cooling air as it was inhaled and exhaled and what appears to be a transitional morphology of the ear that would give rise to the mammalian ear. The story of the mammalian ear is far more complicated than the previous sentence makes it sound, but this intermediate ear morphology is important in overall ear evolution.

There are many reasons that Dimetrodon is an interesting animal to study and, given time this week, we can get into some of the studies that have been done with disparate species of the Dimetrodon genus. Dimetrodon will always stand out because of their importance in the evolutionary history of synapsids, their unique morphology, and, personally, because the first model I ever built was of a Dimetrodon standing on a rock. It is very possible that this was the model kit (I was young and it was forever ago, but this brings up the memory of building it).
 Also, here is a nice illustration of a few of the species of Dimetrodon scaled to one another by Dmitry Bogdanov.
©Dmitry Bogdanov

No comments:

Post a Comment