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Beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs

Part of the Mesozoic era which were comprised of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods.

It is now believed that it took about 10 million years following the "The Great Dying" extinction event for organisms on Earth to recover.

It is thought that there are two reasons the extended period of time it took to recover, first the magnitude of the extinction event, and second the prolonged period of poor conditions which occurred in bursts for some 5 million to 6 million years after the initial crisis, with repeated carbon and oxygen crises, warming and other ill effects.

Once the environment calmed, more complex ecosystems emerged. In the sea, new groups, such as ancestral crabs and lobsters, as well as the first marine reptiles, came on the scene, and they formed the basis of future modern-style ecosystems. The first dinosaurs such as Coelophosis and Euskelosaurus, and mammals, turtles, crocodiles and frogs appeared about 245 Mya.

  • 208 Mya - The first birds appeared (e.g. Archaeopteryx). Dinosaurs included diplodocus, stegasaurus, brachiosaurus.
  • 230 Mya - Small fossils found in Argentina with names like Eoraptor and Eodromaeus are true dinosaurs.
  • 242 Mya to 245 Mya Specimen called Asilisaurus, is not a dinosaur, but belongs to a so-called “sister taxon”—that is, the closest it can be to a dinosaur without actually being one.
  • 230 Mta - North American Carnufex carolinensis, the 9' crocodile ancestor probably walked on its hind legs, preying on armored reptiles and early mammal relatives in its ecosystem which is now the North Carolina area.
  • 243 Mya - Asilisaurus,lived in the Manda Beds.
  • 243 Mya - A team of paleontologists thinks it may have identified the earliest known dinosaur—a creature no bigger than a Labrador retriever that lived about 243 million years ago. That’s at least 10 million years earlier than the oldest known dinos and could change researchers’ views of how they evolved. But some scientists, including the study’s authors, caution that the fossils could instead represent a close dinosaur relative. There is a strong case that Nyasasaurus was “either a dinosaur or the closest relative.”
  • 247 Mya - Chaohusaurus birthed its young viviparously, like later ichthyosaurs. However, unlike later ichthyosaurs, the young exited the birth canal head-first. Montani et al.(2014) cited this as evidence for a terrestrial evolution of viviparity in ichthyosaurs
  • 248 Mya - Cartorhynchus lenticarpus an amphibious ichthyosaur that lived in the seas of what is now China during the upper Lower Triassic. This fossil links the dolphin-like ichthyosaur to its terrestrial ancestors, filling a gap in the fossil record.

Triassic Period

There are many forests of conifers and cycads. The first mammals appear. Reptiles are abundant and varied.

Because the land was configured into a single continent, now called Pangaea, central regions tended to be hot and arid.

Early Triassic

The Permian-Triassic extinction event spawned the Triassic period. The massive extinctions that ended the Permian period and Paleozoic era caused extreme hardships for the surviving species. Many types of corals, brachiopods, molluscs, echinoderms, and other invertebrates had completely disappeared. The most common Early Triassic hard-shelled marine invertebrates were bivalves, gastropods, ammonites, echinoids, and a few articulate brachiopods. The most common land animal was the small herbivorous synapsid Lystrosaurus.

Early Triassic faunas lacked biodiversity and were relatively homogenous throughout the epoch due to the effects of the extinction, ecological recovery on land took 30M years. The climate during the Early Triassic epoch (especially in the interior of the supercontinent Pangaea) was generally arid, rainless and dry and deserts were widespread however the poles possessed a temperate climate. The relatively hot climate of the Early Triassic may have been caused by widespread volcanic eruptions which accelerated the rate of global warming and possibly caused the Permian Triassic extinction event.

Late Triassic

In the late Triassic, the first dinosaurs or the ancestors of the dinosaurs evolved. Early theropods (beast-footed) are generally known to have been bi-pedal (walking on two legs) and carnivores. They were also usually quite large. While still rare during this period we see the development of the Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor, Ceratosauria, Tetanurae.

The Herrerasauridae are an early group represented by the Herrerasaurus. The fossil record of this period is small. But a Herrerasauraus was discovered in a middle-late Triassic period dig at the Ischigualasto Formation in Argentina during the 1970s. Another herrerasaur, , Staurikosaurus, was found in Brazil in the 1960s. The most recent fossil find in this group was in 1993 of the Eoraptor, or "dawn thief."

The Ceratosauria had more diverse shapes (morphological differences). Two examples include the Dilophosaurus and the small Segisaurus.

The Tetanurae consists of two smaller groups (clades) known as the Carnosauria and the Coelurosauria. While these two sound like the meat and vegetarian versions of burritos, they include among the carnosaurs, large predators such as Allosaurus. The Coelurosaurs were smaller but as fierce with the Velociraptor made famous by the movie, Jurassic Park.

Dating and subdivisions

The Triassic was named in 1834 by Friedrich Von Alberti from the three distinct layers (Latin trias meaning triad) —red beds, capped by chalk, followed by black shales— that are found throughout Germany and northwest Europe, called the 'Trias'.

The Triassic is usually separated into Early, Middle, and Late Triassic Epochs, and the corresponding rocks are referred to as Lower, Middle, or Upper Triassic. The faunal stages from the youngest to oldest are:

Upper/Late Triassic (Tr3)
Rhaetian(203.6 ± 1.5 – 199.6 ± 0.6 Ma)
Norian(216.5 ± 2.0 – 203.6 ± 1.5 Ma)
Carnian(228.0 ± 2.0 – 216.5 ± 2.0 Ma)
Middle Triassic (Tr2)
Ladinian(237.0 ± 2.0 – 228.0 ± 2.0 Ma)
Anisian(245.0 ± 1.5 – 237.0 ± 2.0 Ma)
Lower/Early Triassic (Scythian)
Olenekian(249.7 ± 0.7 – 245.0 ± 1.5 Ma)
Induan(251.0 ± 0.4 – 249.7 ± 0.7 Ma)


During the Triassic, almost all the Earth's land mass was concentrated into a single supercontinent centered more or less on the equator, called Pangaea ("all the land"). The Tethys sea, a vast gulf on the eastern side of Pangaea, opened farther westward during the mid-Triassic, at the expense of the shrinking Paleo-Tethys Ocean, an ocean that existed during the Paleozoic. The remainder was the world-ocean known as Panthalassa ("all the sea"). All the deep-ocean sediments laid down during the Triassic have disappeared through subduction of oceanic plates; thus, very little is known of the Triassic open ocean.

The supercontinent Pangaea was rifting during the Triassic—especially late in the period—but had not yet separated. The first nonmarine sediments in the rift that marks the initial break-up of Pangea—which separated New Jersey from Morocco—are of Late Triassic age; in the U.S., these thick sediments comprise the Newark Group.[1] Because of the limited shoreline of one super-continental mass, Triassic marine deposits are globally relatively rare, despite their prominence in Western Europe, where the Triassic was first studied. In North America, for example, marine deposits are limited to a few exposures in the west. Thus Triassic stratigraphy is mostly based on organisms living in lagoons and hypersaline environments, such as Estheria crustaceans.


The Triassic climate was generally hot and dry, forming typical red bed sandstones and evaporites. There is no evidence of glaciation at or near either pole; in fact, the polar regions were apparently moist and temperate, a climate suitable for reptile-like creatures. Pangea's large size limited the moderating effect of the global ocean; its continental climate was highly seasonal, with very hot summers and cold winters. It probably had strong, cross-equatorial monsoons.


Three categories of organisms can be distinguished in the Triassic record: holdovers from the Permian-Triassic extinction, new groups which flourished briefly, and other new groups which went on to dominate the Mesozoic world.

In marine environments, new modern types of corals appeared in the Early Triassic, forming small patches of reefs of modest extent compared to the great reef systems of Devonian times or modern reefs. The shelled cephalopods called Ammonites recovered, diversifying from a single line that survived the Permian extinction. The fish fauna was remarkably uniform, reflecting the fact that very few families survived the Permian extinction. There were also many types of marine reptiles. These included the Sauropterygia, which featured pachypleurosaurs and nothosaurs (both common during the Middle Triassic, especially in the Tethys region), placodonts, and the first plesiosaurs; the first of the lizardlike Thalattosauria (Askeptosaurs); and the highly successful ichthyosaurs, which appeared in Early Triassic seas and soon diversified, some eventually developing to huge size during the late Triassic.

On land, the holdover plants included the lycophytes, the dominant cycads, ginkgophyta (represented in modern times by Ginkgo biloba) and glossopterids. The Spermatophytes, or seed plants came to dominate the terrestrial flora: in the northern hemisphere, conifers flourished. Glossopteris (a seed fern) was the dominant southern hemisphere tree during the Early Triassic period.

Flower plants appear to have been on the planet at around 245 million years ago according to fossils containing pollen from that period. This is 100 million years earlier than previously thought.

Temnospondyl amphibians were among those groups that survived the P-T extinction, some lineages (e.g. Trematosaurs) flourishing briefly in the Early Triassic, while others (e.g. Capitosaurs) remained successful throughout the whole period, or only came to prominence in the Late Triassic (e.g. Plagiosaurs, Metoposaurs). As for other amphibians, the first Lissamphibia are known from the Early Triassic, but the group as a whole did not become common until the Jurassic, when the temnospondyls had become very rare.

Archosauromorph reptiles — especially archosaurs — progressively replaced the synapsids that had dominated the Permian. Although Cynognathus was a characteristic top predator in earlier Triassic (Olenekian and Anisian) Gondwana, and both Kannemeyeriid dicynodonts and gomphodont cynodonts remained important herbivores during much of the period. By the end of the Triassic, synapsids played only bit parts. During the Carnian (early part of the Late Triassic), some advanced cynodont gave rise to the first mammals. At the same time the Ornithodira, which until then had been small and insignificant, evolved into pterosaurs and a variety of dinosaurs. The Crurotarsi were the other important archosaur clade, and during the Late Triassic these also reached the height of their diversity, with various groups including the Phytosaurs, Aetosaurs, several distinct lineages of Rauisuchia, and the first crocodylians (the Sphenosuchia). Meanwhile the stocky herbivorous rhynchosaurs and the small to medium-sized insectivorous or piscivorous Prolacertiformes were important basal archosauromorph groups throughout most of the Triassic.

Among other reptiles, the earliest turtles, like Proganochelys and Proterochersis, appeared during the Norian (middle of the Late Triassic). The Lepidosauromorpha—specifically the Sphenodontia—are first known in the fossil record a little earlier (during the Carnian). The Procolophonidae were an important group of small lizard-like herbivores.


The Monte San Giorgio lagerstätte, now in the Lake Lugano region of northern Italy and Switzerland, was in Triassic times a lagoon behind reefs with an anoxic bottom layer, so there were no scavengers and little turbulence to disturb fossilization, a situation that can be compared to the better-known Jurassic Solnhofen limestone lagerstätte. The remains of fish and various marine reptiles (including the common pachypleurosaur Neusticosaurus, and the bizarre long-necked archosauromorph Tanystropheus), along with some terrestrial forms like Ticinosuchus and Macrocnemus, have been recovered from this locality. All these fossils date from the Anisian/Ladinian transition (about 237 million years ago).

Late Triassic extinction event

The Triassic period ended with a mass extinction, which was particularly severe in the oceans; the conodonts disappeared, and all the marine reptiles except ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Invertebrates like brachiopods, gastropods, and molluscs were severely affected. In the oceans, 22% of marine families and possibly about half of marine genera went missing, according to University of Chicago paleontologist Jack Sepkoski. The end Triassic mass extinction is estimated to have claimed about half of all marine invertebrates. Around 80% of all land quadrupeds also went extinct.

Though the end-Triassic extinction event was not equally devastating everywhere in terrestrial ecosystems, several important clades of Crurotarsi (large archosaurian reptiles previously grouped together as the thecodonts) disappeared, as did most of the large labyrinthodont amphibians, groups of small reptiles, and some synapsids (except for the proto-mammals). Some of the early, primitive dinosaurs also went extinct, but other more adaptive dinosaurs survived to evolve in the Jurassic. Surviving plants that went on to dominate the Mesozoic world included modern conifers and cycadeoids.

It is not certain what caused this Late Triassic extinction, which was accompanied by huge volcanic eruptions about 208-213 million years ago, the largest recorded volcanic event since the planet cooled and stabilized, as the supercontinent Pangaea began to break apart. Other possible causes for the extinction events include global cooling or even a bolide impact, for which an impact crater surrounding Manicouagan Reservoir in Quebec, Canada, has been singled out. At the Manicouagan impact crater, however, recent research has shown that the impact melt within the crater has an age of 214±1 Ma. The date of the Triassic-Jurassic boundary has also been more accurately fixed recently, at 202±1 Ma. Both dates are gaining accuracy by using more accurate forms of radiometric dating, in particular the decay of uranium to lead in zircons formed at the impact. So the evidence suggests the Manicouagan impact preceded the end of the Triassic by approximately 12±2 Ma. Therefore it could not be the immediate cause of the observed mass extinction.

The number of Late Triassic extinctions is disputed. Some studies suggest that there are at least two periods of extinction towards the end of the Triassic, between 12 and 17 million years apart. But arguing against this is a recent study of North American faunas. In the Petrified Forest of northeast Arizona there is a unique sequence of latest Carnian-early Norian terrestrial sediments. An analysis in 2002 found no significant change in the paleoenvironment. Phytosaurs, the most common fossils there, experienced a change-over only at the genus level, and the number of species remained the same. Some Aetosaurs, the next most common tetrapods, and early dinosaurs, passed through unchanged. However, both Phytosaurs and Aetosaurs were among the groups of archosaur reptiles completely wiped out by the end-Triassic extinction event.

It seems likely then that there was some sort of end-Carnian extinction, when several herbivorous archosauromorph groups died out, while the large herbivorous therapsids— the Kannemeyeriid dicynodonts and the Traversodont cynodonts— were much reduced in the northern half of Pangaea (Laurasia).

These extinctions within the Triassic and at its end allowed the dinosaurs to expand into many niches that had become unoccupied. Dinosaurs became increasingly dominant, abundant and diverse, and remained that way for the next 150 million years. The true "Age of Dinosaurs" is the Jurassic and Cretaceous, rather than the Triassic.


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