Dinocephalia - Description


Apart from the Biarmosuchia and the Eotitanosuchidae, the Dinocephalia are the least advanced among the therapsids, although still uniquely specialised in their own way. They retain a number of primitive characteristics (e.g. no secondary palate, small dentary) shared with their pelycosaur ancestors, although they are also more advanced in possessing therapsid adaptations like the expansion of the ilium and more erect limbs. They include carnivorous, herbivorous, and omnivorous forms, some semi-aquatic and some fully terrestrial, and were also among the largest animals of the Permian period; only the biggest Caseidae and Pareiasauridea rivalling or even exceeding them in size.

All dinocephalians are distinguished by having interlocking incisors allowing a shearing contact between upper and lower teeth. In more advanced forms, the heels on the lingual sides of the incisor teeth met to form a crushing surface when the jaws were shut, allowing the grinding up of plant matter.

Most dinocephalians also developed pachyostosis of the bones in the skull, which seems to have been an adaptation for intra-specific behaviour (head-butting), perhaps for territory or a mate. In some types, such as Estemmenosuchus and Styracocephalus there are also horn-like structures, which evolved independently in each case.

Dinocephalians are extraordinary for their large size. The biggest herbivores (Tapinocephalus) and omnivores (Titanosuchus), may have massed up to two tonnes in weight, and were some 4.5 meters long, while the largest carnivores (such as Titanophoneus and Anteosaurus) were at least as long, with heavy skulls 80 cm long, and overall weights of around half a tonne.

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