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Temporal range: Middle Permian, 270–260 Ma
Titanophoneus potens (fossil).jpg
Skeleton of Titanophoneus potens, a carnivorous dinocephalian of the Middle Permian
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Therapsida
Clade: Eutherapsida
Suborder: Dinocephalia
Seeley, 1895

See Taxonomy

Dinocephalia is a clade of large-bodied early therapsids that flourished for a brief time in the Middle Permian between 270 and 260 million years ago (Ma),[1] but became extinct, leaving no descendants. Dinocephalians included herbivorous, carnivorous, and omnivorous forms.[2] Many species had thickened skulls with many knobs and bony projections. Dinocephalian fossils are known from Russia, China, Brazil, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania.[3][4]


Life restoration of Moschops capensis
Skull of Titanophoneus

Apart from the Biarmosuchians, the dinocephalians are the least advanced 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 were semiaquatic, others were fully terrestrial. They were among the largest animals of the Permian period; only the biggest Caseidae and Pareiasauridea rivaling or exceeding them in size.


Dinocephalians were generally large. The biggest herbivores (Tapinocephalus) and omnivores (Titanosuchus) may have massed up to 2 tonnes (4,400 lb), and were some 4.5 metres (15 ft) long, while the largest carnivores (such as Titanophoneus and Anteosaurus) were at least as long, with heavy skulls 80 centimetres (31 in) long, and overall masses of around a half-tonne.


All dinocephalians are distinguished by the interlocking incisor (front) teeth. Correlated features are the distinctly downturned facial region, a deep temporal region, and forwardly rotated suspensorium. Shearing contact between the upper and lower teeth (allowing food to be more easily sliced into small bits for digestion) is achieved through keeping a fixed quadrate and a hinge-like movement at the jaw articulation. The lower teeth are inclined forward, and occlusion is achieved by the interlocking of the incisors. The later dinocephalians improved on this system by developing heels on the lingual sides of the incisor teeth that met against one another to form a crushing surface when the jaws were shut.

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.

Evolutionary history[edit]








Phylogeny of Dinocephalia following Fraser-King et al. 2019[5]

The dinocephalians are an ancient group and their ancestry is not clear. It is assumed that they must have evolved during the earlier part of the Roadian, or possibly even the Kungurian epoch, but no trace has been found. These animals radiated at the expense of the dying pelycosaurs, who dominated during the early part of the Permian. Even the earliest members, the estemmenosuchids and early brithopodids of the Russian Ocher fauna, were already a diverse group of herbivores and carnivores.

During the Wordian and early Capitanian, advanced dinocephalians radiated into a large number of herbivorous forms, representing a diverse megafauna. This is well known from the Tapinocephalus Assemblage Zone of the Southern African Karoo.

At the height of their diversity (middle or late Capitanian age) all the dinocephalians suddenly died out. The reason for their extinction is not clear; although disease, sudden climatic change, or other factors of environmental stress may have brought about their end. They were replaced by much smaller therapsids; herbivorous Dicynodontia and carnivorous Biarmosuchians, Gorgonopsians and Therocephalians.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Day, Michael O.; Guven, Saniye; Abdala, Fernando; Jirah, Sifelani; Rubidge, Bruce; Almond, John (2015). "Youngest dinocephalian fossils extend the Tapinocephalus Zone, Karoo Basin, South Africa". South African Journal of Science. 111: 1–5.
  2. ^ Nicolas, Merrill; Rubidge, Bruce S. (2010). "Changes in Permo-Triassic Terrestrial tetrapod ecological representation in the Beaufort Group (Karoo Supergroup) of South Africa". Lethaia. 43: 45–59. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.2009.00171.x.
  3. ^ Angielczyk, K. D. (2009). "Dimetrodon is Not a Dinosaur: Using Tree Thinking to Understand the Ancient Relatives of Mammals and their Evolution". Evolution: Education and Outreach. 2 (2): 257–271. doi:10.1007/s12052-009-0117-4.
  4. ^ Simon, Rachel V.; Sidor, Christian A.; Angielczyk, Kenneth D.; Smith, Roger M. H. (2010). "First record of a Tempinocephalid (Therapsida: Dinocephalia) from the Ruhuhu Formation (Songea Group) of Southern Tanzania". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 30 (4): 1289–1293. doi:10.1080/02724634.2010.483549. S2CID 131447562.
  5. ^ Fraser-King, Simon W.; Benoit, Julien; Day, Michael O.; Rubidge, Bruce S. (2019). "Cranial morphology and phylogenetic relationship of the enigmatic dinocephalian Styracocephalus platyrhynchus from the Karoo Supergroup, South Africa". Palaeontologia Africana. 54: 14–29.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carroll, R. L. (1988), Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, WH Freeman & Co.

External links[edit]