The Fossil History of Australia

Paleozoic Era - Permian Period

(named after a town called Perm in Eastern Russia)

(286 to 248 million years ago)

In the Permian period, there was significant movement of the continents, and the landmass called Gondwana merged with the other main landmasses to form a larger area called Pangaea.

During this time, Australia gradually emerged from the ice and glaciers which had covered most of the land at the end of the Carboniferous era. These periods are not well named for the Southern lands, as the coal deposits which formed in Northern lands during the Carboniferous period, did not form until the Permian in Australia.

Although the geographic position remained the same, general warming to temperate levels allowed both land flora and fauna to diversify, and there was an increase in volcanic activity.

Early trees, which may have been deciduous, were part of the plant life growing around swamps, which formed the coal deposits found in parts of Australia including New South Wales. Some of these trees were a type of conifer with seeds in the cones, similar to the conifers of today. Towards the end of the Permian period, plants were able to survive in drier parts of the land, and general fauna coverage of most of the land continued from this time on.

Considerable remains of fossil insects were found by John Mitchell near Belmont in New South Wales, and have been the subject of numerous studies. Volcanic ash covering the insects there enabled many complete specimens to be found from this site. Many varieties of beetles and flies are known from this time, particularly around the lakes and swamps. The wings of most insects are the most commonly found, for example those of the scorpion fly which had four wings.

Although the fossilized remains of reptiles have been found in other parts of the world, very little evidence of the development of reptiles as been found in Australia from this time. In the seas around Australia, fish and sharks continued their presence, as well as brachiopods, crinoids, and molluscs.

The main event, which occurred at the end of the Permian era, is a catastrophic happening, perhaps several meteors colliding with the Earth, which caused the extinction of about 90% of all life forms on the planet, including a major part of the marine life. Although severely decimated, reptiles survived and became the dominant life form for the next 170 million years.

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