From Texas Observer:
The beast was a mammal relative with a heavy skull, a mouth full of fangs, and a tall dorsal sail made of skin stretched over long struts of bone. Sinuous as a crocodile, leathery scales shining in the hot sun, it padded along black-mud swamps and highlands shaded by swaying tree ferns. Sixty million years before the first dinosaur, it slept, basked, chased and killed. It breathed. It was alive.
That would be about 280 million years ago (Early Permian). So the mystery is:
Paleontologists studying the red beds puzzled over Dimetrodon’s ubiquity for years. No modern land ecosystems support that many apex predators. “If you go on a wildlife-watching tour in Africa,” Bakker said, “you will see on average 100 zebras per lion. Which is what you would expect. But what would it mean if you saw 100 lions per zebra? There’s something wrong with that picture.” And yet the equivalent disparity is present in the red beds, not only with Dimetrodon, but predators Eryops and Xenacanthus as well. While large herbivores such as Edaphosaurus and Diadectes also appear in the deposits, they’re uncommon.
Well, it turned out that Dimetrodon spent a lot of time around ponds…
The researchers now think:
In addition, the remains of aquatic animals often bear the telltale marks of Dimetrodon fangs, indicating that they’ve been chewed in a manner closely resembling the mastication of Dimetrodon’s mammalian relatives, wolves and hyenas. Which means, Bakker said, that instead of regularly attacking land-based browsers such as Edaphosaurus or Diadectes, the sail-backed hunters were most likely eating amphibians and sharks.
According to Bakker, this conclusion had been predicted by paleontologist E.C. “Shorty” Olson in the 1950s. But nobody was listening at the time, and the idea was soon forgotten. Now, on the strength of chewed shark skulls, shed teeth and other clues, it’s looking more and more likely that the top predator of the Craddock ranch regularly swam for its supper. More.
Well, it’s funny no one did listen, because it seems like a fairly obvious hypothesis to test. And isn’t research grand, compared to theory?
Hope Olson (1910–1993) lived and died a hopeful person, neither victim nor perpetrator of Darwinblather—that is, a matter is considered explained once a Darwinian explanation is concocted, regardless of its plausibility or relevance—and no other sort of explanation is wanted.
Darwinblather has given us such glories of science as evolutionary psychology.
See also: Talk to the fossils: Let’s see what they say back
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