Last night I finished the massive-open-online-course “Dino101: Dinosaur Paleobiology” from the University of Alberta, hosted by coursera. I learned that, in my dino-myopia, I’ve been overlooking a host of interesting animals that existed in the Permian age. The Permian age, by the way, directly preceded the Mesozoic Era (the age of dinosaurs) and came to an end when the single greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history occurred.
The Dino101 course lecture briefly noted the existence of gorgonopsians, a family of carnivorous, sabertoothed “mammal-like reptiles” that ranged in size from housecat to bear.
Inostrancevia alexandri in all its glory, courtesy of Wikipedia user Ghedoghedo.
On further review, it appears that the most imposing gorgonopsian was the genus Inostrancevia, which could reach approximately 3.5 meters long. Inostrancevia was also possessed of “exceptionally large canines,” according to the impressively thorough doctoral thesis of Eva Gebauer.
As this is the first I’ve learned of the gorgonopsians, I don’t have much else to add for today. If anyone can round out my extremely basic description of the gorgonopsians, and Inostrancevia in particular, with some color commentary, I’d love to hear it.
In any event, these were some fearsome beasts and the creatures they ate seem to have been interesting too. But that’s a topic for another day. In the meantime, let’s just settle for knowing that the sabertoothed, bear-sized Inostrancevia existed — until the entirety of Gorgonopsia was completely wiped out by the end-Permian mass extinction. Inostrancevia exists today in only two forms: its fossilized remains, and a 5-inch-long replica you can buy if you’re so inclined.
One final note on the Permian for today’s purposes: apparently, a “protosphagnum” existed then. One wonders whether gorgonopsians burned it to dry the barley they used to make gorgonopsian whisky.