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Paleo-pedantry
May 27, 2014 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur! Sorry to ruin your childhood yet again, but it's not even a reptile. It's a synapsid, which makes it one of our cousins.

The Brain Scoop's video was inspired by Kenneth D. Angielczyk's paper, Dimetrodon Is Not a Dinosaur: Using Tree Thinking to Understand the Ancient Relatives of Mammals and their Evolution. The abstract:
The line of descent that includes all living mammals extends back in time over 300 million years. Many of the ancient relatives of mammals that fall along this line are very different in appearance from living mammals and are frequently mistaken for reptiles such as dinosaurs. This misconception is reinforced by the fact that these animals are often referred to as “mammal-like reptiles,” a term reflecting outdated methods for classifying organisms. In reality, these ancient mammal-relatives, known as synapsids, are more closely related to living mammals than they are to any reptiles. Evolutionary trees, which depict patterns of descent from common ancestors among organisms, are very useful for understanding why this is the case and for reconstructing the evolutionary histories of many of the unique characters found in mammals. Here, I provide an introduction to evolutionary trees and their implications for understanding the relationships between mammals, synapsids, and reptiles. This is followed by a review of synapsid diversity and a discussion of how evolutionary trees can be used to investigate when in synapsid history different mammalian characteristics first appeared.
Read the whole thing here. Also, here's some extra synapsid reading: Meanwhile, in case you're wondering what else "...is not a dinosaur", you might look into pterosaurs, mosasaurs, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Believe it or not, there were tons of really neat ancient creatures that weren't dinosaurs.

Previously: The Brain Scoop and synapsids.
posted by brundlefly (65 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
UGH JUST SPIT ON MY CHILDHOOD
posted by Windigo at 1:30 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


(but very interesting, very cool)
posted by Windigo at 1:30 PM on May 27


All these names sounded so familiar and yet I could not picture them. Truly, the worst part of getting old is forgetting all your dinosaurs.
posted by Hoopo at 1:34 PM on May 27 [22 favorites]


As a child who was otherwise very knowledgable about prehistoric beasts, I believed that dimetrodon's fin soaked up sunlight (probably true), which it then converted into fire breath (almost certainly incorrect). Having spoken to other people about this, I was apparently not alone in my delusion.

I did, however, know that dimetrodon was not a dinosaur.

And I told everyone, because I was that kid.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:39 PM on May 27 [15 favorites]


which it then converted into fire breath (almost certainly incorrect)

Um. Yeah, of course. I totally knew that was wrong.
posted by brundlefly at 1:40 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


*sobs*
posted by brundlefly at 1:40 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


So, I like dinosaurs. Imagine my displeasure upon opening a pack of these and discovering that my so called "dinosaur stampers" were in fact only 2/3rds dinosaur.
posted by phunniemee at 1:43 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Hoopo, the other bad part is forgetting how to pronounce your dinosaurs. I was reading How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? to a two year old the other day and it was very, very sad how I was mangling them.
posted by tavella at 1:44 PM on May 27


noooo Dimetrodon is my favorite! I'm surprised there wasn't a bit about this in Dan Telfer's Best Dinosaur routine.

Still, this is nothing like what I expected from "sorry to ruin your childhood," which made me imagine that Dimetrodon was going to be declared the Pluto of dinosaurs. It's not insignificant or less than in any way - it's just a cool lil' sail-backed predecessor to mammals.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:44 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


I knew dimetrodons weren't dinosaurs.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:45 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


But Godzilla's goddamned well a dinosaur, right?
posted by COBRA! at 1:45 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


The Doubleclicks recently kickstarted an album called Dimetrodon.

I hadn't read all the fine print before, but I'm happy to see that the $5 pledge level noted "... or a Dimetrodon, which is not, technically, a dinosaur!"
posted by Zed at 1:45 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


I always assumed that Godzilla was the Elder God that the dinosaurs worshiped.
posted by brundlefly at 1:46 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


Zed just beat me to most of what I was going to say, but, yes, the Doubleclicks album will be released June 10. (Though Kickstarter backers are getting it sooner.) Here's the title song.

(The most fun bit, on the second viewing, is imagining Aubrey running around with a cello out of camera range.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:46 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


the other bad part is forgetting how to pronounce your dinosaurs

If you get stuck on your pronunciations, the Natural History Museum in London is here to help.
posted by phunniemee at 1:47 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


It's not insignificant or less than in any way - it's just a cool lil' sail-backed predecessor to mammals.

Exactly. Dimetrodon isn't less awesome because it's not a dinosaur. We are more awesome because we're related to it.
posted by brundlefly at 1:47 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Oh and can we all please just take a moment and acknowledge that "thagomizer" has become an accepted term? Thank you.
posted by phunniemee at 1:48 PM on May 27 [22 favorites]


Posted by Parasite Unseen:
As a child who was otherwise very knowledgable about prehistoric beasts, I believed that dimetrodon's fin soaked up sunlight (probably true), which it then converted into fire breath (almost certainly incorrect). Having spoken to other people about this, I was apparently not alone in my delusion.


Incidentally, according to the link about nine synapsid relatives, Dimetrodon almost certainly didn't use its fin to soak up sunlight due to the fact that its neural spines don't have the necessary vasculature.
posted by jamincan at 1:50 PM on May 27


The great thing about having kids is that you get to practice your dinosaur name pronunciation skills.

Also, is it just me, or is it weird that the protagonists of Dinosaur Train, being Pteranodons, are not actually dinosaurs? It's just me, isn't it.
posted by Omission at 1:50 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Godzilla is not a dinosaur; Godzilla is my personal savior.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:51 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Well that explains Sleestaks.
posted by Gungho at 1:52 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


According to the tree of life, everything alive is our cousin.
posted by Renoroc at 1:54 PM on May 27


I learned about ancient synapsids and how they're totally not dinosaurs and how dimetrodon is one of them on a trip through the Field Museum in Chicago a half dozen years ago or so. Blew my mind. I hadn't really updated my knowledge about prehistoric life since the 70s.
posted by edheil at 1:54 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Also, is it just me, or is it weird that the protagonists of Dinosaur Train, being Pteranodons, are not actually dinosaurs? It's just me, isn't it.

It most certainly is not. Upon opening this thread, I did a search for the word 'train', planning to make this comment if you had not already.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:55 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Yes, yes. But can dimetrodons swim?
posted by steef at 2:03 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


What's funny is, despite not being particularly into dinosaurs as a child, when I read dimetrodon, I immediately pictured the sail and, what's more, can even picture the book where I read about them.

This is clearly attributable to our shared DNA deep down in the lizard mammal part of the brain.
posted by madajb at 2:03 PM on May 27


Dimetrodons didn't even live at the same time as dinosaurs! They died out in the Permian. A dimetrodon hanging out with a triceratops is Flintstones-level anachronism. I learned that earlier this year and I'm still reeling.

(Dimetrodon was always one of my favorite dinosaurs synapsids because it looked like it had a giant potato chip on its back.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:04 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Dimetrodon is a dinasaur !!! - and Pluto is a planet !!!
I refuse to allow science to alter my childhood.
posted by Flood at 2:05 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Also, is it just me, or is it weird that the protagonists of Dinosaur Train, being Pteranodons, are not actually dinosaurs? It's just me, isn't it.

No, what's weird about Dinosaur Train is that the birds kidnapped a kid and everyone, apparently, is a-ok with that.
posted by madajb at 2:07 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Dimetrodons didn't even live at the same time as dinosaurs! They died out in the Permian. A dimetrodon hanging out with a triceratops is Flintstones-level anachronism. I learned that earlier this year and I'm still reeling.

You think that's crazy? Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus were separated by more time (~85 million years) than Tyrannosaurus and us (~65 million years).
posted by brundlefly at 2:10 PM on May 27 [9 favorites]


...Dinosaur Train is that the birds kidnapped a kid and everyone...

um, pteranodons aren't birds...but birds are closely related to theropods, which are, um, dinosaurs, which includes the T-rex. So, the T-rex on dinosaur train is more a bird than the things with wings.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:11 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Dimetrodon is a dinasaur !!! - and Pluto is a planet !!!
I refuse to allow science to alter my childhood.


You and a good 2/3 of the American voting public....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:14 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Dimetrodon were able to breathe fire, according to "Land of the Lost." i don't think anything more needs to be said.
posted by Guy Smiley at 2:14 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


TIL that it's pronounced "dimeetrodon" not "dimehtrodon", which is cool.

Also really cool to learn that there is a part of my body called the "temporal opening" and that if I could learn to harness the power therein, all the secrets of time will be mine to possess. That or I could chew my food better. One of the two.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:21 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


Per the video one of the distinguishing feature of mammals is that we suck.
posted by humanfont at 2:34 PM on May 27


Yes, yes. But can dimetrodons swim?

Even more importantly, could it achieve lift if it started running on a treadmill?
posted by Atreides at 2:43 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Oldie but a goodie. Walking with Monsters is a prequel to Walking with Dinosaurs. Heck, even Dimetrodon shows up in the documentary!
posted by Carius at 2:44 PM on May 27


Mammals won because we have a limbic system, which makes us mean as fuck. Take that, synapsids, reptiles, weird squishy things, etc.
posted by Mister_A at 2:44 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Yes, yes. But can dimetrodons swim?

Why would they need to? They could become a sailboat by merely sitting on a log.
posted by Hoopo at 2:45 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


If you guys love dimetrodon so much why don't you marry it, and fulfill one of Rick Santorum's least likely predictions?
posted by Mister_A at 2:46 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Oh, wow. That's mind-boggling.

I like mind-boggling things.
posted by aroweofshale at 2:55 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


(Well -- not the marrying bit. I would have to cross time and space to do that, and where would we have the wedding?)
posted by aroweofshale at 3:03 PM on May 27


How is this not common knowledge?

Ok, what about this?
posted by sneebler at 3:19 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Sorry to ruin your childhood yet again, but it's not even a reptile. It's a synapsid, which makes it one of our cousins.

Speak for yourself.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:21 PM on May 27 [17 favorites]


Triceratops! Good ol' Triceratops, whose name has not changed unlike most of the rest of the dinosaurs I remember from my childhood. And who is totally pronounceable!
posted by tavella at 3:22 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


tavella, are you talking about Brontosaurus there? Because that was reclassified in 1903. It's sort of amazing to me that that happened over a century ago and people are still upset about their childhood favorite being renamed. So many textbooks just missed the boat on it, I guess.
posted by brundlefly at 3:30 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


It's like there's this interesting kid who lives across town who you first met when you started going to High School, and it turns out that his Mom was a distant cousin of your Dad, so you actually related, if only a bit, but it's still kinda cool that you're related.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:47 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


This is where I trot out my favorite weird synapsid factoid! Meet Lystrosaurus, the most successful land vertebrate in the wake of the Permian-Triassic extinction:
At least one unidentified species of this genus survived the end-Permian mass extinction and, in the absence of predators and of herbivorous competitors, went on to thrive and re-radiate into a number of species within the genus,[12] becoming the most common group of terrestrial vertebrates during the Early Triassic; for a while 95% of land vertebrates were Lystrosaurus.
Alas, it didn't last, and the synapsid branch that led to the mammals isn't very closely related to Lystrosaurus.
posted by murphy slaw at 4:21 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


People who think that Dimetrodon is a dinosaur rank just barely above people who think that Brontosaurus is a dinosaur in my mental paleo-pedantry ranking.

sniffs contemptuously

walks out
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:24 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Nope,
scientists are clearly not understanding what a dinosaur is.
A dinosaur is any big animal which lived a long time ago that looked dinosaury
posted by compound eye at 4:30 PM on May 27 [14 favorites]


I knew this! It's one of the reasons I got to be a trail guide for the Animatronic Dinosaur display at the Detroit Zoo. (Well, that and I could say Pachycephalosaurus without getting tongue tied)
posted by DaddyNewt at 4:47 PM on May 27


murphy slaw: "This is where I trot out my favorite weird synapsid factoid! Meet Lystrosaurus, the most successful land vertebrate in the wake of the Permian-Triassic extinction..."

OMFGSQUEE!!!!!!! I WANTS ONE! Forget cloning the fucking Mammoth. Bring these back!

And one of the other weird facts that blows your mind (like Dimetrodon not even being around when Dinos were) is that T-Rex is closer to us in time than it is to Stegosaurus.
posted by symbioid at 4:58 PM on May 27


Come on, people! Anyone who's toured the fourth floor of the American Museum of Natural History oh say 400 times with an obsessed son (free! thanks, TW employee benefits!) and followed the cladistics lines on the floor knows that you walk through the dinosaurs to get to the Hall of Primitive Mammals, wherein dwells Dimetrodon and the rest of our noble forebearers.
posted by stargell at 5:18 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


> If you guys love dimetrodon so much why don't you marry it, and fulfill one of Rick Santorum's least likely predictions?

because...

> According to the tree of life, everything alive is our cousin.

...unless you're from West Virginia you can't marry any of it. Not even the girl next door.


> Dimetrodon is a dinasaur !!! - and Pluto is a planet !!!

And Sailor Pluto is goddam straight still a Sailor Scout.
posted by jfuller at 5:26 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Sorry to ruin your childhood yet again, but it's not even a reptile. It's a synapsid, which makes it one of our cousins.

Speak for yourself.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:21 PM on May 27


Pterodactyl isn't a dinosaur either.
posted by humanfont at 5:43 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Oldie but a goodie. Walking with Monsters is a prequel to Walking with Dinosaurs. Heck, even Dimetrodon shows up in the documentary!

We just started watching this (as in, 15 min. ago), and when the Dimetrodon showed up in the introductory credits, my son shouted "Look a Proto-mammal!"
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:57 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


Did anyone else notice that humans were represented by a phrenology chart (at 2:33)?
posted by b1tr0t at 6:14 PM on May 27


Pterodactyl isn't a dinosaur either.

I'm aware of that; as I taught my second graders, it is a reptile.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:04 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


An archosaur to be precise. Which is a group that includes crocodilians, dinosaurs and (by default) modern day birds. So, another mind blower is that alligators are more closely related to pigeons than lizards.
posted by brundlefly at 10:31 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Yeah, girl scientist! Man, the host of that video is my new role model. I wanna talk about paleontology as awesomely as she can!
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:51 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Dimetrodon is the minuscule arch enemy of Dollar Bill.
posted by Segundus at 1:44 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


And one of the other weird facts that blows your mind (like Dimetrodon not even being around when Dinos were) is that T-Rex is closer to us in time than it is to Stegosaurus.

...So, another mind blower is that alligators are more closely related to pigeons than lizards.


Well, that certainly puts the meh into Dimetrodon.
posted by y2karl at 9:01 AM on May 28


...So, another mind blower is that alligators are more closely related to pigeons than lizards.

You forgot the ultimate mind blower.... pigeon IS dinosaur.
posted by Carius at 9:49 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I finally came back and read the whole paper — very nice.

And as a reward for anyone still following this: a kick-ass picture of the pterosaur Tupuxuara. Verifiability may have been traded for kickassitude.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:07 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Speaking of "Pterodactyls," I may need to get this shirt. It's designed by really good paleoartist (and apparent troll) John Conway.
posted by brundlefly at 10:43 AM on June 3


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