Pterosaurs: dragons of the air
Carboniferous: insects grow
All of the world’s continents came together during the Carboniferous to form the super continent of Pangaea. On land vertebrates diversified and evolved to form lineages that lead to the modern ‘amphibians’, true reptiles and a group of animals called synapsids that later gave rise to the mammals.
Huge swathes of the supercontinent were covered with swamp forests that produced the extensive coal fields of North America and Europe.
Global reconstruction courtesy of Professor Ron Blakey, Northern Arizona University, Geology.
Image courtesy of Graham Cripps, www.surfacevision.com
By Carboniferous times insects had begun to diversify and increase dramatically in size. Most Carboniferous insects belong to groups that are now extinct, but they gave rise to the first examples of modern insects, including the first mayflies, dragonflies and the roachoids, a group of insects that evolved to produce modern roaches and mantids.
Although frequently shown associated with water, the dragonfly-like insects of the Carboniferous probably did not have aquatic larvae.
Dragonflies belong to an insect group called Odonata that includes all living dragonflies and damselflies. They made their first appearance in the Permian, but become more abundant in the Jurassic. However, a number of related insect groups with a dragonfly-like body plan appeared in the Carboniferous. Famous among these are the Protodonata, a group of insects that resemble dragonflies, but are technically not true dragonflies. Protodonatans such as the giant Meganeura from the Carboniferous and Meganeuropsis from the Permian were extremely large. Meganeura monyi from France was the largest insect ever with a wingspan of 75cm.
Image courtesy of Werner Kraus, Aachen University.
This ancient insect had a wingspan of 23mm.
Photograph courtesy of Dr Carsten Brauckmann, illustration courtesy of Dr Elke Gröning – both of Technische Hochschule Clausthal.