Before the Dinosaurs: The Coal-Age Monsters

Dinosaurs get all the press. But did you ever wonder what animals came before the dinosaurs?

Unique Adaptations

Life took hold on planet Earth hundreds of millions of years before the dinosaurs, and in that time, strange creatures evolved unique ways to live, eat, and mate.

Much of the Earth was covered in hot swamps—vast forests that would some day form the huge coal beds we know today in states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In these swamps lurked strange animals unlike any others since.

Take Diploceraspis, for example: this bizarre creature (pictured below) looked something like a salamander. A three foot long salamander with a boomerang-shaped head, that is! Was this strange skull used for protection against predators (hard to swallow), a battle tool, or just a fancy way to show off to potential mates?

DiploceraspisDimetrodon (see our 3D interactive feature above) was a meat-eater with a secret weapon. Well not so secret.

The huge sail on his back likely let Dimetrodon warm up faster in the morning, using the Sun's energy to provide the energy to attack and kill other primitive reptiles before they had a chance to stretch their legs. And maybe, like Diploceraspis's strange skull, the Dimetrodon sail was used to attract mating partners.

Fascinating Creatures

While the dinosaurs are more familiar than ever, the Coal Age presents more questions than answers. Maybe that's why paleontologist Bob Bakker (best known for popularizing velociraptors) spends so much of his time today talking about the coal age monsters. His tales of snot-spitting salamanders and dragonflies larger than eagles are more fact than fiction.

In the next few months, Prehistoric Planet will bring you a look at these creatures up-close and personal through 3D interactives like the Dimetrodon module above. Stay tuned!


Dimetrodon Flash Interactive Module
© 2006 by CG Science.

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