Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Varanops

Varanops brevirostris
Varanops is one of those cool ancient reptiles that wasn't actually a Dinosaur. In fact, they lived before Dinosaurs even existed, and belonged to the same group that modern mammals eventually evolved out of millions of years later!

Varanops was not only a Synapsid-- it was also a Pelycosaur. In fact, its claim to fame is that it was one of the very last surviving Pelycosaurs. This group of Reptiles lived before the existence of Dinosaurs and included the more prominent Dimetrodon. (And for more information about Synapsids, check out that article!) Dimetrodon was gone around 280 million years ago, but Varanops made it at least another 20 million years.

They looked similar to today's large Monitor Lizards, and probably moved and behaved in a similar fashion (think Komodo Dragon). They consumed larger prey, as they had a very strong torso and legs, and were most likely terrestrial rather than arboreal.

Varanops went extinct around 260 million years ago, probably due to increased competition from all the new, Diapsid (Reptile), and Therapsid (Mammal-Like) predators. Therapsids actually evolved directly from other Pelycosaurs around 275 million years ago, making the Varanops that they deposed distant cousins!

Status : Extinct for about 260 million years
Location : North America
Size : Length around 5ft (1.5m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Synapsida -- Family : †Varanopidae
Subfamily : †Varanodontinae -- Genus : †Varanops -- Species : † V. brevirostris

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