Animals Before Dinosaurs: 15 Prehistoric Creatures That Once Ruled the Earth
Roughly 245 million years ago, dinosaurs first emerged during the Triassic Period. These giant reptiles were the dominant species throughout the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The Tyrannosaurus and other monsters ruled over the Earth until a mass extinction wiped out the species. But as we know, the planet is roughly 4.5 billion years old, meaning animals roamed the Earth long before dinosaurs ruled the world. These animals before dinosaurs ruled the animal kingdom and were at the top of the food chain.
These fascinating creatures existed billions of years ago. These prehistoric creatures roamed the planet when it was still young and became extinct long before dinosaurs and other vertebrate animals emerged. While many people know about the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, few discuss the earlier event. Known as the Permian-Triassic extinction, several predators and dominant creatures were killed during this event. Here is a look at some of the prehistoric creatures who didn’t survive that era of Earth.
The Dimetrodon was the apex predator during the early Permian Era. It was one of the most terrifying Permian monsters. The Dimetrodon had a reptile-like appearance and was sometimes mistaken for a dinosaur. However, it roamed the planet 40 million years before the emergence of dinosaurs.
It had a long spine with a curved skull and walked on all four legs. With various-sized teeth, it also had a unique neural spine sail. Primarily found in Texas and Oklahoma, the Dimetrodon was one of the most feared creatures before the arrival of dinosaurs.
During the Late Carboniferous Era, the largest flying insect, the Meganeura, was the apex predator of the sky. With a lack of rivals in the air, the Meganeura often grew large in size.
It looked similar and was a direct ancestor of the modern-day dragonfly. The monstrous creature lived 300 million years ago and thrived by eating other insects. It’s one of the most terrifying creatures and puts some of the scariest dinosaurs to shame.
Few creatures compare with the mighty Estemmenosuchus. It first appeared roughly 267 million years ago during the Middle Permian Era. Despite looking similar to a dinosaur, the horned animal lived millions of years before dinosaurs appeared.
Approximately 250 million years ago, the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event occurred. Also known as the great dying, the Estemmenosuchus was one of the animals to become extinct during the event. The mass extinction allowed for the emergence of dinosaurs.
480 million years ago, near present-day Morocco, lived the ancient animal known as Aegirocassis. It thrived during the Ordovician Era, inhabiting shallow seas around what would become the Sahara Desert.
The giant filter feeder was seven feet long and looked like a massive prawn. With big flaps for swimming, it would use a filtering mesh to devour its food. The Aegirocassis died out and went extinct by the end of the Cambrian Era.
The Cotylorhynchus rose to prominence during the Low Permian Period. With powerful claws and a club-shaped tail, the Cotylorhynchus had a small head and a big body. The giant herbivore mainly lived in America in present-day Oklahoma and Texas.
It traveled across America nearly 300 million years ago but was extinct by the start of the Jurassic Era. While it spent most of its life on land, some evidence suggests it might have also spent time in the water.
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During the Permian Era 252 million years ago, the Scutosaurus slowly roamed the globe searching for food. It was one of the largest reptiles and had an armor-plated body with a 20-inch spiked skull. Unlike other reptiles, the monstrous herbivore’s legs were directly under its body.
Evidence suggests it might have been able to swim, but it’s only a theory. The first fossils discovered suggest it lived in present-day Russia. Also known as the shield lizard, the Scutosaurus went extinct right before the Triassic Period.
40 million years before dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the Helicoprion was the ocean’s apex predator. It lived all around the globe 270 million years ago near Australia, China, Japan, Russia, Canada, and the United States.
It had a shark-like appearance but also one very distinctive feature; a unique set of spiral teeth known as tooth whorls set in the creature’s lower jaw. This gave the Helicoprion an added advantage when stalking its prey. With speed and strength, the Helicoprion was the buzzsaw killer of the sea that all other creatures feared.
The terrifying giant Pterygotus first appeared at the end of the Ordovician Period 444 million years ago and dominated the sea 419 million years ago during the Devonian Period. The Pterygotus was six feet long, resembling a giant scorpion with vicious claws.
It was the apex predator of the sea as it ambushed its unsuspecting prey, tearing it to pieces before devouring it. Experts have not determined the Ptergotus’s primary residence, but many fossils appeared in Europe, notably England.
During the Late Devonian Period 420 million years ago, the Titanicthys was a giant fish that could grow up to 14 feet long. It most likely lived around Morocco and England, although it might have reached North America.
The Titanichthys was easily recognizable thanks to its armored body. Despite the large size, it had a small mouth that couldn’t take down any large prey. Instead, it was possibly one of the first filter feeders, swallowing schools of tiny fish to survive. It’s one of the most interesting creatures that existed before dinosaurs.
The extinct millipede, Arthropleura, emerged during the Carboniferous Period. The giant predator lived on Earth 345 million years ago. By the lower Permian Period, it ruled the forests of Europe and North America.
The animal could grow up to seven feet long and had the ability to spray acid and stand upright. This meant the Arthropelura had few predators until the dinosaurs arrived. The forest-dwelling animal became extinct for a combination of reasons, including the rise of vertebrate animals, notably dinosaurs, and the changing conditions of the environment.
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During the Late Permian Era, the Inostrancevia was the most feared animal on the land. It lived in present-day Russia around 250 million years ago. The Inostrancevia hunted its prey using its giant canine teeth.
With its massive teeth and strength, the Inostrancevia could easily take down an animal twice its size. Even armored animals weren’t safe as the Inostrancevia teeth easily pierced the armor. While it feared no other animal, it soon went extinct as other large animals became more dominate.
During the Devonian Period, no creature dared cross paths with the giant scorpion-like creature known as Jaekelopterus. It often lived in freshwater and would prey on smaller animals in lagoons.
With quick reflexes and speed, it grew to be eight feet long, making it even more dangerous. The sea scorpions were the fearless predator of the sea roughly 400 million years ago.
Before the dinosaurs, the Gorgonopsia was the ultimate predator hunting its prey with a plan and precision. Even a dinosaur like the T-Rex would run in the opposite direction of a Gorgonopsia. Named after the mythological beast, they had distinctive canine teeth and incisors they used as dangerous weapons.
They would patiently wait to ambush their prey with one devastating strike. They then retreat to a safe distance and waited as their prey struggled to get back to its feet before jumping the weakened animal and delivering the kill shot. The Gorgonosia was a methodical hunter who always defeated its prey.
400 million years ago, the Dunkleosteus was more than a fish. The fantastic creature could grow up to 33 feet long and in some cases, the Dunkleosteus would be larger than modern-day whales. The Dunkleosteus had an armored body to protect it against other predators.
Most sea creatures feared the Dunkleosteus, and it wasn’t just because of its size. The Dunkleosteus was as powerful as a T-Rex and would eat creatures its exact size. They had a debilitating bite that could stop a shark or whale in its tracks. It was one of the most feared animals during the late Devonian Era.
Around the time the dinosaurs emerged, another species was taking the world by storm. Reptile-like creatures called Notosaurus resembled dinosaurs in many ways. However, as the name suggests, they weren’t dinosaurs.
These unique creatures emerged during the Triassic era, although they didn’t survive as long as the dinosaurs. Nothosurus looked similar to a reptile or dinosaur but lived more like a seal. They often survived on land and in the sea. Like seals, they would spend time in the ocean and grab some rays on land. Living mainly in North Africa and China, they had webbed feet and a fin as a tail. They could also use the tail as a propeller when swimming in the ocean.
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