Saturday, November 3, 2012

Proterosuchus....or Should I Say "Broterosuchus?"

Before we learn about Proterosuchus, it will be helpful to discuss where this creature comes from.  Proterosuchus is an archosaur, and to understand what an archosaur is, we must first travel back 320 million years into Earth's history: the middle of the Carboniferous Period.  To travel back to that period of Earth's history, click HERE TO SEE A POST I JUST MADE ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF THE ANIMALS THAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT RIGHT NOW.  Unless, of course, you are fine with just accepting the idea that the archosaurs are relatives of the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and crocodilians, in which case you can just skip that post.  I think it's interesting, though, so it might be worth checking out!

Well, that was confusing.  So how does all of this evolutionary rig-a-ma-roll pertain to Proterosuchus?  Well, in his excellent book entitled "Gorgon," paleontologist Peter D. Ward actually talks about that.  Here is that passage from his book:

"During the Triassic a whole new suite of vertebrates populated the land.  The oldest true "ruling reptiles," the stock that would ultimately give rise to the dinosaurs, are found in the oldest rocks of the Triassic.  The most ancient of these is Proterosuchus.  Yet within several million years, there was a variety of these predinosaurs, belonging to a group known as the archosaurs.  From these ancestral stocks the successful lines of crocodiles and crocodile-like animals known as phytosaurs evolved.  From other members of this group came lizards, snakes, and, by the middle of the Triassic, the first true dinosaurs."  

Well, that certainly sums it up quite nicely, don't you think!  Anyways, Proterosuchus was around the size of the extant Komodo dragon, and was one of the largest reptiles alive during its time, in the Early Triassic Period.  Similar in appearance to the modern day crocodiles, it has been theorized that this animal would lie in wait much like the crocodilians, ambushing its prey when it came down to bodies of water to drink.  One bit of evidence that causes some scientists to believe that Proterosuchus hunted like the crocodilians was that the eyes of Proterosuchus were were located on top of its head, again like the crocodilians.

Remains of Proterosuchus are known from both China and South Africa, where it was first discovered by Robert Broom, a famous South African paleontologist, in 1903.  This specimen was discovered in the Karoo Basin, an enormous desert in South Africa where large numbers of fossils have been discovered. 

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