Monday, May 4, 2009

The Synapsid Gallery

Welcome to...
Though we often picture modern reptiles as being primitive among vertebrates, this couldn't be further from the truth. The majority of reptiles we see living around us today are the highly diverged and specialized products of millions of years of evolution of the reptilian form. If one traces the reptile family tree back to its roots, you'd hardly recognize most of the earliest forms to claim membership in this group.
Among some of the strangest of these early reptiles were the Synapsids. Not only were they bizarre creatures compared to modern animals, but even more bizarre they are closest related to today's mammals rather than other reptiles.
At the same time, this is not to say that most of them are our direct ancestors. They are rather a major offshoot off the reptilian tree that branched out into an amazing array of diversity as the most successful land animals of their era, only to be devastated and cut down by major extinctions to a few lone twigs. One of these surviving twigs would eventually manage to sprout into a new branch of diversity, our own lineage the modern mammals.
The true heyday of the Synapsids was the Permian, in which they dominated nearly every terrestrial ecosystem and niche in the manner we are used to with dinosaurs or mammals. During this time they evolved into all shapes and sizes, ate plants and meat (or a combination of both), and conquered many environments for the first time by vertebrates.
Despite being less known then Dinosaurs, they were in every way as amazing (though very different and unique in their own ways!). They too evolved all manner of odd ornamentation ranging from sail backs, to elaborate horns and crests, small heads, and even the first ever sabre teeth. Though they would not match the colossal size of the Dinosaurs, these primitive "stem-mammals" would achieve sizes that match those of many of today's largest land animals, and were the first to ever reach such sizes.
If not for the combination of a number of devastating geologic processes and events at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago they may very well have flourished and prospered longer. However they would nearly be completely extinguished by the worst mass extinction of earth's history.

Despite this tragic end they are far from forgotten today. So come back with us, back 250 million or more years to once again witness our strange relatives...

Lobalopex mordax by Zach Miller

Caesids by Zach Miller

Moschops by James Robins

This is drawn from this angle to get a feeling for its peculiar sprawling stance and huge body. The only extant comparison of a creature approaching this size, but nothing like the bulk, would be the Komodo Dragon, which after all spends a lot of time resting its body on the ground.

Dicynodont QMF15.990 by James Robins

A reconstruction of the as yet un-named Dicynodont QMF15.990, from Cretaceous deposits in Queensland, Australia....yes Cretaceous.....!!!

Bathygnathus borealis by Steven Francis-Coombs
Here's what remains of Bathygnathus borealis, with an outline of its skull (speculative). The one and only specimen represents a sphenacodontid synapsid. It was originally described as the lower jaw, but it turned out later that it was part of the upper jaw. It was discovered on Prince Edward Island.

Sunset on the Karoo by Craig Dylke

A pack of Gorgonopsids settle in for the night, as twilight creeps over Permian South Africa 249 mya.

This picture was composed completely from 3D CG in the program Carrara. This scene gains much from being viewed in a larger version.
There will be "a making of" post about this piece appearing on ART Evolved soon.

Cotylorhynchus Romeri by Rachael Revelle

Whilst Cotylorhynchus could grow to 6 metres in length and weighed up to 2 tons it had a disproportionately small head.

Lycaenops ornatus by Sean Craven

The Xeno-Permian by Zach Miller
A look at a world where Synapsids didn't go extinct 250 million years ago...

Proto-Mammal Fallacy by Glendon Mellow

The Hunt By Nima Sassani
A pack of Inostrancevia take down a Scutosaurus.

Estemmenosuchus by Peter Bond

Gorgonopsid by Peter Bond

Dimetrodon milleri by Peter Bond

Dimetrodon milleri by Peter Bond

 Vananops brevirostris by David Tana

Varanops brevirostris, one of the last surviving pelycosaurs from the early Late Permian. 
Pen on paper, scanned, colored in Adobe Photoshop

Submissions for the Synapsid gallery will still be taken, but due to formatting issues caused by blogger, will be posted in buddles of five. So be sure to get yours in sooner then later to guranteed a spot in the first updates.

Our next gallery will be the flying reptiles, the Pterosaurs. Try to have your entry in by July 1st! Also be sure to "soar" by to check out the entries for this gallery...