Kuiper poses with his new (life-sized!) friend Dorothy the Dimetrodon. Dorothy resides at the Prehistoric Gardens near Port Orford on the southern Oregon Coast.
Dorothy may look suspiciously like a dinosaur, but the truth is that she’s more closely related to us than to them. She isn’t a reptile, either; she’s a synapsid (a group that includes mammals and proto-mammals.) Dinosaurs, birbs, turtles and snakes belong to another group called diapsids. The two groups diverged somewhere around 300 million years ago (and amphibians split off from both these groups of “amniotes” around 12 million years before that.)
Dimetrodon is actually a genus; there were around a dozen different species. The sign didn’t specify which species Dorothy belongs to, but we know that sculptor Ernie Nelson took great care to make sure that his creations were accurately proportioned. All Dimetrodons were quadrupeds, and all had sails; the genus roamed the Earth for over 20 million years during the late Permian.
Dorothy had some interesting features beyond her sail. Her kind were the first animals to develop tooth cusps, and the first land animals to have distinctly different types of teeth (“dimetrodon” means “two measures of teeth.”) If you think her teeth make her look like a carnivore, you’d be correct. However, back in her day there was a dearth of large herbivores to munch on so she had to get creative. Recent fossil evidence suggest that Dimetrodon mostly ate SHARKS (although sometimes they were eaten back by them) and giant amphibians.
The sails are cool as heck but we’re still not 100% sure what they were for. They may have helped the animals warm up and get going in the morning by pointing their sails towards the sun. However, newer models suggest this may have taken upwards of 4 hours every morning, so that doesn’t seem terribly efficient. It’s also possible that they used their sails to ask other dimetrodons out on dates, but unlike say, peacocks, both male and females seem to have had them. With any luck, we’ll be able to piece together more evidence from future fossil finds.
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