30 June 2010
In honor of this year's World Cup host, July's fossil vertebrate is South African. Bradysaurus (literally "Slow Lizard," represented here by a skeleton from Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde) was a pareiasaur, a group of large, armored herbivores that may be distantly related to turtles. Though pareiasaurs have been found in late Permian sites throughout the Old World, Bradysaurus is unique to the Karoo Basin north and east of Cape Town. While pareiasaurs were among the largest members of the South African ecosystem, the fauna was dominated by therapsids, or "mammal-like reptiles," including the now-iconic, predatory gorgonopsians and burrowing dicynodonts. The Karoo has been the focus of many research projects in recent years because it is one of the few regions with a terrestrial fossil record of the Permian Extinction, the largest mass extinction in the history of life. Pareiasaurs were among the groups that would not survive the end of the Permian; if you want to see one today, I recommend Oregon's very own Prehistoric Gardens.