Imagine you could travel back in time. All around you, the scenery would - forest to plains, desert, lakes, perhaps even tundra. Land would rise and fall, the moon would grow larger, and eventually, you'd arrive at your destination. All around you are familiar sights, such as flowering plants and small mammals, but some things would differ, such as the increased presence of Conifers, and the lack of grass. We have arrived at the Cretaceous.
This is a world rule by dinosaurs. All around, giant herbivores and carnivores fight in an evolutionary battle for survival. Among the trees and ground cover, mammals scurry about, searching for food. Though much more diverse than previously thought, mammals are still small at this time, waiting for their chance to dominate.
This series will tell the tale of the creatures of this time - how they lived, fought, bred, and ultimately, what drove them to extinction.
Yet our story does not begin here. To reach that point, we must travel back even further in time. All around us, the land changes once more, rising and falling, growing more lush or barren, until we arrive further in the past. Here forests are more common, though occasionally, they give way to flood plains. Across the plains roam many types of dinosaurs, but one group stands out above all others - the sauropods! The giant, long necked herbivores are the largest animals to ever walk on Earth, only being outsized by the blue whale. Yet they do not rule this world alone.
In the skies above, magnificent reptiles known as pterosaurs sail on air currents, searching the globe for food. Beneath the waves, on the other hand, fierce marine reptiles scour the seas, always ready for their next meal. They, too, will have their role to play in this series.
Despite all of these majestic sights, we still have yet to reach the start of our story. To do that, we must travel back one last time, farther than we have yet gone, to a time two hundred and ten million years in the past. There lies a dry, ancient world, and that is where our story begins.
On this grim ecological battlefield, many animals are fighting a desperate battle for survival, among them are slender, fuzzy, erect standing reptiles - the first dinosaurs.
The most common dinosaur in this region is called Coelophysis. Despite being no larger than a child, it is an evolutionary giant. For now, though, he is confined to the shadows.
Dinosaurs first appeared in the Middle Triassic, thirty million years earlier, and while they have come quite far from their humble beginnings, they are not yet the dominant organisms - other creatures still hold that role. Still, in the dry world, dinosaurs are already showing signs of their future dominance.
While most of the Earth is currently covered in vast deserts, this part of North America is wetter, and is filled with lush forests, ones that can survive even at the height of the dry season. The wet season is only just ending, and as the days drag on, all the creatures in this area will find their ability to survive put to the test.
At the edge of one of the larger rivers, a young Coelophysis watches the riverbank, searching for food. Though still primitive among dinosaurs, it already shares many traits with its descendents - sharp teeth, forward facing eyes, clawed forelimbs, and three toed feet. All traits that make it very efficient...at killing.
With one quick snap of its jaws, the male has plucked a fish out of the water. While he would be content to eat it here, a growing chorus of bellows forces him to retreat.
This strange chorus heralds the arrival of a herd of Placerias. These tusked herbivores are not related to dinosaurs, instead belonging to a group known as synapsids, which will one day give rise to mammals. These squat herbivores are a type of dicynodont, creatures that once dominated the Earth. Now, though, Placerias are the only ones left, and they are quickly becoming an endangered species.
Nearby, another type of synapsid is busy searching for food along the lake shore. This one, though, is very different from the Placerias - it is far smaller, and resembles the mammals its kind will give rise to. This creature is a cynodont - specifically, a traversodont. Like the Placerias, they too are herbivores, but they won't turn down any meat they can find. For now, though, the tiny synapsid retreats to the safety of his burrow.
While most creatures must seek shelter from the sun beneath trees or large rocks, cynodonts instead take cover in tunnels beneath the Earth. Here, the young are safe from most threats, as are the adults until they need to feed. Cynodonts couples are extremely devoted to each other - they mate for life.
As the moring drags on, the Placerias begin to disperse. Joining them are another group of strange reptiles - these ones resemble lizards, but have upturned snouts and plated backs, with spikes along their shoulders. These strange creatures are called Desmatosuchus, and they are a type of aetosaur. These creatures belong to a clade known as the archosaurs, which dinosaurs are also a member of, but these creatures are more closely related to crocodiles than dinosaurs. Their upward curved snouts are used to root for food, as are the Placerias' tusks. These herbivores compete for the same sources of food, and in time, one will drive the other to extinction.
A sudden shift of the wind, though, unites all fo the animals with a sense of unease. The male Coelophysis, sensing a danger, seeks shelter in a thicket, while the Placerias and Desmatosuchus begin to bunch together. Yet they are already too late: out of the trees emerges a ferocious reptilian shape, which darts over toward one of the aetosaurs and inflicts a savage wound on the herbivore. The perpetrator of the attack is Postosuchus - the largest carnivore on Earth.
All thoughts of unity go out the window as the herbivores scatter, desperate to avoid the fierce predator. This isn't as easy as it looks - while the Placerias can move surprisingly fast considering their squat appearance, the aetosaurs are weighed down their heavy armor, and one now carries a lethal wound. Even then, the Postosuchus would not have much trouble chasing them - just like Coelophysis, it can stand and run on two legs, giving it a speed advantage over the herbivores.
Eventually, the deep wound takes its toll, and the injured Desmatosuchus collapses. The giant carnivore digs in for a feast.
Nearby, another predator watches on with hungry eyes. This one resembles the Postosuchus, but is smaller, and is earthen gray in color, with light blue rosettes, as opposed to the Postosuchus' red and white. This animal is a Vivaron, one of Postosuchus' smaller relatives. While easily capable of making a kill on its own, this hunter will not turn down an easy meal, and it can afford to wait for the larger carnivore to eat its fill.
Unfortunately, it won't be getting any scraps from this carcass. A chorus of hisses and growls heralds the arrival of even more Postosuchus, these ones larger and fiercer than the one that felled the aetosaur. Noticng the intruders, the hunter attempts to defend its kill, but for naught - it is outnumbered four to one. Reluctantly, it abandons its meal to the intruders, who quickly begin tearing into the carcass squabbling among themselves. Only wen they have had their fill will smaller carnivores have a chance to feed.
In a nearby thicket, the male Coelophysis is once again on the hunt - a fish can only keep him full for so long. In the trees above, lizard-like reptiles climb around, searching for insects. Called Drepanosaurs, they would make a delicious meal, but they are simply out of the carnivore's reach. It would be easier to search the ground for lizards or large insects than attempt to climb.
Suddenly, the sound of branches breaking fills the air. Surprised, the Coelophysis seeks shelter between two large rocks, the passage between them too narrow for a large carnivore. A moment later, the source of the commotion reveals itself: it is a large, green and red herbivore, one that stands upright on two legs. This is a prosauropod - it too is a type of dinosaur, but of a different kind than Coelophysis. Already a giant among the herbivores of this time, it's descendants will only get bigger, to the point they will be immune to attack. Even now, the prosauropod is beyond the Coelophysis' ability to attack, and it is not long before the carnivore returns to hunting, taking care to avoid getting to close to the giant.
A few days later, and the Desmatosuchus carcass has been picked bare. Only a few choice pieces of meat remain, and only the most cunning of carnivores can access them. Already, a small group of Hesperosuchus are busy tearing into the remnants of the aetosaurs, eager to get at the scraps.
Suddenly, a shadow passes over the crurotorsans, which quickly scatter in fear. The source is a strange winged reptiles, which quickly lands on the carcass and begins tearing at the few strips of meat left. This creature is a pterosaur, and with a wingspan of 2.3 meters, it is one of the largest from this time. In the Triassic, most pterosaurs are insect eaters, but this one is a predator. This particular pterosaur is from the deserts that will one day become Utah. Having followed the rains in search of food and water, while it may be an active hunter, it will not turn down carrion when it has the chance.
It will need every morsel of flesh that it can find - in the coming months, food and water will only grow scarcer.
As the dry season begins to bite, life in the forest starts showing sings of stress - the Placerias and Desmatosuchus are forced to spread out further in search of food, forgoing strength in numbers to sate their ravenous stomachs. This makes it far easier for preators to make a kill, and the lone male Postosuchus has already succeeded in felling one of the dicynodonts, and is now eating as much as he can. The younger male is at an advantage compared to his larger competitors - his smaller size means that he needs to eat less than they would, which makes surviving through the dry season that much easier. Still, he will have to keep his guard up, less they still another carcass from him.
Nearby, the male cynodont is on the prowl. He, too, is hungry, and has already located a particularly appetizing bush to feed from. Cautiously, he takes a few bites, before tearing off a tuft of greenery and retreating to the safety of his burrow. Located amid the roots of a tree, it is relatively safe from predators, and provides excellent protection for young. Cynodonts are one of the most well adapted animals for droughts, as their small size means that they do not need to eat or drink as much as their larger competitors, and can wait out the hottest parts of the day in the safety of burrows, which are far cooler than the Earth around them.
At the river's edge, the Coelophysis is also enjoying a good meal, having killed a Effigia, an herbivorous relative of Postosuchus and its ilk. A few meters away, more Effigia risk the predator's attention to sate their thirst, weary of other large predators. Suddenly, a large bursts out of the water, snatching one of the small reptiles and dragging it into the depths, causing the remainder to scatter. The assailant is a type of amphibian known as Koskinodon, another one of the many exotic creatures from this time. It's lineage have ruled the rivers since the time of the first reptiles, but that reign is coming to an end. Reptiles are beginning to return to the water, and have already begun to displace the temnospondyl amphibians as kings of the rivers and seas. Very soon, Koskinodon's kind will be forced to cede their dominion over fresh water to a new type of reptile - the crocodiles.
FOUR MONTHS LATER
It is now the middle of the dry season, and all around the river, life is struggling to survive. With the river growing drier each day, water is becoming a precious resource, and it is something every creature is willing to fight for.
As the male Coelophysis watches on, an old Placeris duels a Desmatosuchus for the right to a small pool. Normally, neither animal would be interested in fighting, as the risk of injury would be too great. Now, however, thirst drives them to fight. The old bull dicynodont is at a disadvantage here - his age makes him slow to react, something his heavily armored opponent can exploit. The battle is mostly visual with threat displays and bellows, but with neither herbivore willing to back down, it soon grows violent. Tusks meet an armor tail, and both animals quickly rack up a few cuts. Eventually, though, the fight is over - a lucky charge by the male Placerias had flipped his opponent over. Unable to right itself, the Desmatosuchus can do nothing to stop its foe from drinking.
Suddenly, the mometary calm is shattered by the arrival of a Vivaron, which swiftly begins tearing into the defenseless aetosaur. The Coelophysis and Placerias beat a hasty retreat, leaving the crocodile relative to enjoy its kill.
Nearby, the prosauropod browses on several conifers, oblivious to the carnage mere meters away. It only stops feeding for a moment when the male Coelophysis darts by it, causing the herbivore to let out a warning cry, before returning to browsing. Owing to their ability to stand upright, prosaurpods are the only herbivores able to feast on tree branches, providing them plenty of food even in the dry season, while their large size deters all but the fiercest of predators.
The sound of crunching leaves alerts the dinosaur to the approach of a trio of small reptiles. They resemble the Coelophysis, but possess beaked mouths with tusks on their upper jaws. Just like the Coelophysis, they are coated in downy feathers. These are another type of dinosaurs, belong to the group known as Ornithischia, the bird hips. One day, these tiny herbivores will give rise to the hadrosaurs, the ankylosaurs, the stegosaurs, the ceratopsians, and the pachycephalosaurs, but for now, they are stuck in the shadows.
ONE WEEK LATER
With the dry season in full swing, all life around the river is under pressure. The majority of the Placerias have begun to migrate, as have the aetosaurs. This has forced the majority of the Postosuchus to follow them, lest they lose their greatest source of food. All around the river, though, the smaller animals are thriving. The male Coelophysis has just killed a swimming reptile known as Vancleavea, and is now tearing into its carcass. Dinosaurs can do so well in dry environments because their kidneys are very efficient at retaining water, meaning they lose only small amounts of the precious liquid when they excrete. It is for this reason that the dinosaurs are among the most common creatures still living at the river, as they are able to endure the drought more effectively than their competitors.
A few meters away, hidden in their burrow, the cynodonts are sleeping out the worst of the heat. Cynodonts spend most of the day resting within their burrows, only venturing out at night to search for food. It is a strategy that has worked well for their kind in the past, and will continue to prove effective for their descendents in the distant future, the mammals.
Their rest is about to be disrupted, though - a curious Hesperosuchus has come up to their burrow, searching for food. Normally, the cynodonts would retreat from such a predator, but with their young on the line, the male instead chooses to stand his ground and mount a fierce display, successfully driving of the crurotorsan. Safe for the moment, the male returns to his rest.
A few days later, and the river has been reduced to a trio of small streams, too thin to connect to each other. The amphibians that called it home have disappeared, having either been picked off by predators or forced into hibernation by the slow drying of their home. Most of the plant life surrounding the river has died off, forcing the remaining herbivores into further competition with each other. The lack of prey has taken its toll on the native carnivores, whose numbers have been decimated by the drought.
At the edge of one of the streams, the young male Postosuchus quenches his thirst from one of the rapidly shrinking sources of water still left in the area. Nearby, the prosauropod is also drinking from the stream, dangerously close to the crocodilian relative. As is, it has little to worry - only the mightiest of Postosuchus would risk attacking such a large herbivore, and none would dare attack it while it is still in the prime of its health. For now, a small truce exists between predator and prey. And these two animals are not the only ones upholding it - on the other side of the stream, the male Coelophysis is quenching his thirst side by side with one of the heterodontosaurs, while a trio of Effigia drink side by side with a Hesperosuchus. All animals are at peace here, united by their shared need to quench their thirst.
Yet that peace is about to be shattered.
Charging over a small hill, the quartet of full grown Postosuchus stampede toward the river, their target clear. In moments, the young male already at the stream bank finds himself being attacked by four more of his kind. Though he attempts to fight back, he is swiftly overwhelmed. This attack is not one motivated by hunger, but territorialism - the remaining prey surrounding the stream cannot sustain this many Postosuchus, so the larger ones are attempting to eliminate the competition. Once the male is dead, they will likely turn on each other, until only one remains.
Their vicious attack will not go unmolested, though. The brawl brings them right next to the prosauropod, which lashes out in shock, catching one of the carnivores in the side. A second blow breaks the fore-arm of another of the beasts, providing the young male an opportunity to escape his attackers. The remaining two crurotorsans break off their assault and turn their attention to the giant dinosaur. One bites slams into the plant eater, knocking it onto its side, while another charges toward the fallen giant's head, ready to take the herbivore down.
Suddenly, a large shape darts out of the water and clamps its jaws around the neck of the charging carnivore, which feebly attempts to free itself before being dragged into the depths of the river. The culprit of this strange attack is a Smilosuchus, which is a type of reptile known as a pytosaur. Though superficially reminiscent of a crocodile, the two are not closely related, and this magnificent predator will go extinct without issue, but for now, it is the undisputed king of the river.
While one battle has ended, another is just beginning. Taking advantage of the commotion that freed it, the young male Postosuchus slams into one of his attackers, the one that had the misfortune of the taking a claw to its forearm from the prosauropod. Once the wounded carnivore is on the ground, its assailant tears into its neck, swiftly killing the older predator. The young male wastes no time into digging into the still cooling carcass - meat is meat, regardless of its source. Disheartened and broken spirited, the remaining half of the Postosuchus gang retreats, though one now bears a great wound on its right hind leg. it is likely the wounded predator will recover.
Four months later, and the rains are yet to arrive. With the promised end of the drought now a month late, life is truly on edge for all of the natives. Now, only the strongest will survive.
Beneath a giant conifer, a trio of Coelophysis fight over the remains of a Trilophosaurus, all desperate to sate their hunger. In the trees above them, more Trilophosuars browse on the few conifer leaves remaining, all the while trying to keep away from the trio of carnivores below them. Nearby, the male Coelophysis watches the trio fight over the shrim pickings, before turning his attention to the skies above him. Not too far away, the male sees a pterosaur, the same one that picked the dead Desmatosuchus carcass clean. The pterosaur is circling overhead of something, and the Coelophysis knows that the pterosaur only circle over one thing: food. Emboldened by the sight, he charges toward it, eager to sate his belly. As he nears the pterosaur's location, he encounters more of his kind, all looking for food.
At last reaching the pterosaur's location, the small dinosaurs see the reason for the winged reptile's circular flight pattern: on the ground before them is the dying form of the injured Postosuchus. Unable to hunt properly, he has steadily grown weaker, until at last he can no longer endure the drought. Sensing the approaching dinosaurs, he tries to stand, but the male Coelophysis takes the opportunity to tear into the rauisuchian's leg, snatching a ribbon of succulent flesh from the giant carnivore. The pain forces it into the ground, leaving it helpless to defend itself from the dinosaur horde, who quickly begin to tear into its flesh, finally killing the old giant.
That night, the skies are alight with lightning as the overdue rains finally arrive. A small fire breaks out, scattering the surviving residents of the forest, and claiming the lives of the weakest ones. The flames are swiftly put out by the rains, though, which quickly soak into the ground, filling the river to the brim.
Sensing the rains, the Koskinodon awaken from their hibernation. While these beasts are doomed to eventually cede the water to crocodiles, their kind will endure for a while longer, lasting until the late Cretaceous before they finally go extinct.
Not too far away, the cynodonts are exiting their burrow, joined by their pups, who are finally old enough to leave the den and explore the outside world. The cynodonts are one of the great survivors of this time, and while they will be forced into the shadows for the next one hundred and thirty five million years, they will still achieve spectacular diversity.
It is Coelophysis and its kin, though, that shall achieve dominance of the future, a future that is beginning mere meters away. The .Coelophysis, the heterodontosaurs, and the prosauropod have all survived the drought, and now dominate the forest area. And they are not alone. As the sun begins to reach its zenith, a huge herd of herbivores approaches the river. These giants are prosauropods, just like the one that already calls this area home. Have followed the rains in search of food, and with most of the native competition wiped out by the drought, the are poised to dominate.
This is the shape of things to come - the Age of the Dinosaurs has dawned!
A mass extinction event ten million years from now will wipe out most of the animals in this ancient world, but the dinosaurs would only go from strength to strength. In the next program, we will see how they came to dominate the world.
(Cue shot of a crested dinosaur getting ready to attack a prosauropod).
AN: I'm back! Sorry about the Hiatus on Prehistoric Park: Returned from Extinction. I've been working on this and stuff on and .
I plan to try and finish this alongside the current chapter of my Prehistoric Park story, so keep reading!
Read and Review! This is Flameal15k, signing off!