Age of the Dinosaurs Historical Information


Age of the Dinosaurs

The “Age of Dinosaurs” also known as the Mesozoic Era began over 245 million years ago.  It was divided into three periods called the Triassic (245 to 208 million years ago), Jurassic (208 to 145 million years ago), and the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago).

The earth during the Mesozoic Era was very different than it is today.  The earth was only one continent whereas today it is seven.  This huge super-continent was called Pangea.  During the Jurassic period, Pangea was separated into two continents known as Laurasia and Gondwanaland, and during the Cretaceous period, the continents as we know them today began to appear.  Just as in the future the continents we look much different as know them now.


Evidence shows that at the beginning of the Triassic period before the dinosaurs appeared, the global temperature of the Earth was averaged around 50 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Although the end of the period the temperature became hotter and the humidity became drier.  Desserts also began to appear.  Ginkgo trees and fern forests began to appear in the Northern Hemisphere while close to the equator conifer forests and cycads appeared.  Horsetails grew near bodies of water.  Volcano’s spewed out great lava flows.  In this setting, the first dinosaurs began to appear.

They were primitive mammal-like reptiles.  Many animals such as the Pelycosauria, became extinct, and this similar reptile appears.  The carnivorous Cynognathus, a four-legged animal with sharp teeth and large fangs took the Pelycosaurs place.  This dinosaur could take a more nearly upright posture at times, in sharp contrast to the pelycosaurs and the labyrinthodonts.  The Cynognathus, in anatomy, was actually more like a mammal itself.  It even might have been warm-blooded and live to bear.

As the Triassic period unfolded, the therapsid assemblage declined and new animal life forms appeared.  These were the first of the dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs ranged from the size of a chicken or smaller to giants weighing tons.  The dinosaurs thrived all over the world for about 150 million years.  The most dominant dinosaur, especially in the later Triassic, was the prosauropods.  They are known from the Triassic period and their bones are found all of the continents.  They were a very successful life form because they could adapt to very many environments.  They also have a very flexible posture and gait.

Lost in the shrubs and hidden at the Plateosaurus feet is a small, two-legged, long-tailed animal named Podokesaurus.  The only known specimen was found in rock exposures near the campus of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.   Although the specimen was destroyed in a fire over 5 years ago, replicas have been made of it today and the lost specimen is thought to have previously found and named Coelophysis.  It is represented as one of the best-known types of dinosaurs – meat-eaters or carnivores.    After the Coelophysis or the Podekesaurus appeared, Allosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus, well-known meat-eaters, collectively known as theropods, were the scourge of the Triassic period.

Dinosaurs were not the only thing the appeared, plants also flourished rapidly.    The gymnosperms, the cycads with their crowns of palm-like leaves, appeared in the late Carboniferous and multiplied to become an important component of Triassic vegetation.  Cycadeoids, a fellow gymnospermous plant to the true cycads, have a generally similar appearance but was a seed plant.  Wielandiella, named after a Yale paleontologist named G. R. Wieland, was a cycadeoid with narrow, crenulated leaves and globular seed cones.  More than one kind of the plant had leaves that looked almost exactly like these, a fact that causes some difficulty in reconstructing a true picture of cycad plant life.

The were no dinosaurs at the beginning of the Triassic period, but there was many amphibians and some reptiles and dicynodonts (like Lystrosaurus).  During the early Triassic, corals appeared and ammonites recovered from the Permian extinction.  Seed plants dominated the land; in the Northern Hemisphere, conifers flourished.  Glossopteris was the dominant Southern Hemisphere tree during the early Triassic period.


Roughly 248 million years ago, the Permo-Triassic period extinction occurred.  This is the largest extinction known.  About 95% of all species and about 60% of the plants died out.  This includes many marine animals (like the trilobite).  The cause of the Permian extinction might have been from global cooling, volcanic eruptions, or decrease of continental shelf area during the formation of Pangea.  This catastrophic extinction opened the doorway to the rise of dinosaurs and mammals.





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