The ‘ugliest fossil reptiles’ who roamed China

Related Articles

Long before the dinosaurs, hefty herbivores called pareiasaurs ruled the Earth. Now, for the first time, a detailed investigation of all Chinese specimens of these creatures – often described as the ‘ugliest fossil reptiles’ – has been published by a University of Bristol, UK palaeontologist.

Pareiasaurs have been reported from South Africa, Europe (Russia, Scotland, Germany), Asia (China), and South America, but it is not known whether there were distinct groups on each of these continents.

In a new study published today in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Professor Mike Benton of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences shows there are close similarities between Chinese fossils and those found in Russia and South Africa, indicating that the huge herbivores were able to travel around the world despite their lumbering movement.

 

Professor Benton said: “Up to now, six species of pareiasaurs had been described from China, mainly from Permian rocks along the banks of the Yellow River between Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces. I was able to study all of these specimens in museums in Beijing, and then visit the original localities. It seems clear there were three species and these lived over a span of one to two million years.”

Pareiasaurs were hefty animals, two to three metres long, with massive, barrel-shaped bodies, short, stocky arms and legs, and tiny head with small teeth. Their faces and bodies were covered with bony knobs.

It is likely the pareiasaurs lived in damp, lowland areas, feeding on huge amounts of low-nutrition vegetation. No stomach contents or fossilized faeces from pareiasaurs are known to exist, but in Russia, pareiasaurs have been found with evidence they had made wallows in the soft mud probably to cool off or coat themselves in mud to ward off parasites.

The new study confirms that the three Chinese pareiasaur species differed from each other in body size and in the shapes of their teeth.

Professor Benton added: “My study of the evolution of pareiasaurs shows that the Chinese species are closely related to relatives from Russia and South Africa. Despite their size and probably slow-moving habits, they could walk all over the world. We see the same sequence of two or three forms worldwide, and there is no evidence that China, or any other region, was isolated at that time.”

Pareiasaurs were the first truly large herbivores on Earth, and yet their tenure was short.

As in other parts of the world, the species in China were wiped out as part of the devastation of the end-Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago, when 90 per cent of species were killed by the acid rain and global warming caused by massive volcanic eruptions in Russia.

Without forests, landscapes were denuded of soils which washed into the seas. Shock heating of the atmosphere and oceans as a result of the massive release of carbon dioxide and methane also killed much of life. The end-Permian mass extinction killed off the pareiasaurs after they had been on Earth for only 10 million years.

UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Roman Villa of Tiberius and the Cave of Imperial Pleasure

The Villa of Tiberius is a ruined Roman villa complex located in the present-day town of Sperlonga, in the province of Latina on the western coast of Italy.

Archaeologists Excavate 1,600-Year-Old Burial Containing Ornate Treasures

Archaeologists excavating a burial ground have discovered a grave containing ornate grave goods from the 5th century AD, a period of instability during the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Settlements Associated With “Polish Pyramids”

Archaeologists conducting a detailed study of the area near the Kujawy megalithic tombs, dubbed the “Polish Pyramids”, have identified the associated settlements of the tomb builders.

Rocky Planet Discovered in Virgo Constellation Could Change Search For Life in Universe

A newly discovered planet could be our best chance yet of studying rocky planet atmospheres outside the solar system, a new international study involving UNSW Sydney shows.

Sungbo’s Eredo – The “Queen of Sheba’s Embankment”

Sungbo’s Eredo is one of the largest man-made monuments in Africa, consisting of a giant system of ditches and embankments that surrounds the entire ljebu Kingdom in the rain forests of south-western Nigeria.

Woolly Mammoths May Have Shared the Landscape With First Humans in New England

Woolly mammoths may have walked the landscape at the same time as the earliest humans in what is now New England, according to a Dartmouth study published in Boreas.

Prehistoric killing machine exposed

Judging by its massive, bone-crushing teeth, gigantic skull and powerful jaw, there is no doubt that the Anteosaurus, a premammalian reptile that roamed the African continent 265 to 260 million years ago - during a period known as the middle Permian - was a ferocious carnivore.

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

Popular stories

Noushabad – The Hidden Underground City

Noushabed, also called Oeei or Ouyim is an ancient subterranean city, built beneath the small town of Nushabad in present-day Iran.

Ani – The Abandoned Medieval City

Ani is a ruined medieval city, and the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, located in the Eastern Anatolia region of the Kars province in present-day Turkey.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Asteroid and Meteor Impact Craters

Across the history of our planet, around 190 terrestrial impact craters have been identified that still survive the Earth’s geological processes, with the most recent event occurring in 1947 at the Sikhote-Alin Mountains of south-eastern Russia.

The Sunken Town of Pavlopetri

Pavlopetri, also called Paulopetri, is a submerged ancient town, located between the islet of Pavlopetri and the Pounta coast of Laconia, on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.