Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The largest land animal of all time*

* as of the Early Permian.

Darren's latest post, on Cotylorhynchus, inspired me to post some more pictures of this wonderfully bizarre animal. Above is the mounted skeleton at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. I recommend checking out Darren's post if you want to know about the biology and evolution of the critter. I'm just showing off its weirdness.

One commenter over at TZ asked how the animal got its head down far enough to drink. It's a fair question, but I can't help wondering if the reconstructed skeleton has the neck too high and the shoulders too low.

The real skeleton mounted on the wall behind looks like it has a longer neck, but I don't know how much of it might be reconstructed. This mount was in the old Stovall museum for decades, and I remember marveling at it when I was eight.

I know squat about the Early Permian, but it seems unlikely that this animal had any predators as an adult. First, because it really was the largest land animal of its time (which is a mind-blowing thought by itself), and second, because it looks like a big walking hamburger. I imagine these lardasses didn't last very long once something evolved that could eat them. They lived alongside Dimetrodon, though. Their life history was probably similar to that of turtles--tons of eggs, zillions of babies getting eaten by anything that can get a hold of them, and a few individuals squeaking by to becoming essentially invulnerable adults.

I suppose I am fascinated by Cotylorhynchus because I work on sauropods. These guys were the sauropods of their time--the biggest tetrapods that had evolved up until then. What a strange world they lived in. Compared to the present, or even the Mesozoic, the Early Permian is defined mostly by absences. No flowering plants, no flying vertebrates, no bipeds, no turtles, no crocs, no frogs, no marine reptiles, nothing on land larger than Cotylorhynchus, nothing faster or smarter than a lizard. I think about the desert islands off Baja that have no terrestrial denizens bigger than chuckwallas. I think about the rocky Galapagos coast with piles of marine iguanas. The whole world was like that.


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Blogger Darren Naish said...

Awesome photos, thanks for posting them. And I'm all with you on Permian weirdness.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Xakarus Black said...

Wow. Walking hamburger indeed. Making me hungry... *salivation*

Found your blog through the Tetrapod Zoology blog, read some back-blogs, laughed hysterically, and decided to become a regular fan. So I'm here for the duration. :)

11:44 AM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

I think you're the first commenter to self-identify as a fan. I'm a sucker for flattery, so welcome to the jungle. Who knows, maybe one of these days I'll even post some new stuff.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I´m a biology student and I´m doing a work about Cothylorhynchus but I need help!
I need to imagine how its circulatory and respiratory systems were and its tegument too. I haven.t find information about this especie so if you could help me....


9:02 AM  

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