Category Archives: Early Vertebrates


Lush tropical forests and swamps covered the land in the Late Carboniferous Period. Giant insects buzzed around, and the newly evolved amphibians chased after them (see previous page). Some were as big as alligators, but tiny Amphibamus was the size of a newt. It had many of the features of modern frogs and salamanders and… Read More »

Early Plants

Plants can be divided into spore-producing plants, such as mosses and ferns, and seed-bearing plants, such as flowering plants. There are now thought to be more than 400,000 identified species. But where did they first come from? The beginnings Plants originated as algae — simple organisms that live in water and feed off the Sun’s… Read More »


It looked like a dinosaur, ran like a dinosaur, and probably fed like a dinosaur, too—but Effigia was no dinosaur. This Triassic reptile belonged to the same part of the reptile family tree as crocodiles and alligators but evolved a body shape remarkably similar to that of the ostrich dinosaurs (ornithomimids), which were not to… Read More »


Crocodylomorphs (which means having a crocodile-like shape) were part of the archosaur, or “ruling reptile” group, along with dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Some were small, others gigantic, and they lived both on land and in the sea. Like their modern relatives— crocodiles and alligators—most were active hunters, always ready to ambush passing fish or land animals.… Read More »


The skies above the dinosaurs were alive with flying reptiles. These were the pterosaurs. They were not dinosaurs, but they were close relatives. One of the largest pterosaurs was Quetzalcoatlus. This colossal animal was easily the size of a fully grown giraffe—but with a wingspan that would have stretched across a tennis court. FAMILY FACT… Read More »


Gliding on its leathery wings, Eudimorphodon was one of the first pterosaurs to take to the skies. Its front limbs had grown very long, its fourth fingers had stretched out, and together they formed the front edges of a pair of wings. Thin membranes of skin and muscle stretched back toward its hind legs. Powered… Read More »


In the middle of the Triassic, when the first dinosaurs were beginning to walk on land, the seas were home to a family of reptiles known as nothosaurs. A bit like today’s seals and sea lions, the nothosaurs were fish hunters that evolved from land animals. They weren’t fully adapted to life in water and… Read More »

The Loch Ness Monster

Does a plesiosaur survive to this day? There have long been stories of a mysterious prehistoric monster living in Loch Ness, a huge lake in Scotland. Scientific evidence that “Nessie,” as the monster is more familiarly known, exists has never been found, but many people believe they have seen it and a few claim to… Read More »


In 1848, miners in a quarry in Yorkshire, England, were astonished when they discovered the skeleton of a huge creature buried in the rock. It was Rhomaleosaurus, one of the most fearsome predators of the Jurassic seas. At the time, the seas were ruled by two kinds of marine reptile—the dolphinlike ichthyosaurs and lizardlike creatures… Read More »


The ichthyosaurs were the largest sea-dwelling reptiles of all time. They evolved from land-living reptiles that adapted so well to life in the sea that some species came to resemble dolphins. Like dolphins, they fed, bred, and gave birth in water but had to return to the surface to breathe air. FAMILY FACT FILE Key… Read More »