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Temporal range: Kungurian, 279.5–272Ma
|Mounted skeleton of C. romeri|
Cotylorhynchus was a very large synapsid that lived in the southern part of what is now North America during the Early Permian period. It is the best known member of the synapsid clade Caseidae, the largest terrestrial vertebrates of the Early Permian. They were herbivores, and because of their enormous size, probably had no predators.
Cotylorhynchus was a massively built animal with a disproportionately small head and a huge barrel-shaped body. It probably was one of the largest of all non-mammalian synapsids, if not the largest. It could grow to lengths of up to 6 m (20 ft) and could achieve weights of up to 2 metric tons (2.2 short tons). This large size was its best defence against the known predators of the time which were all much smaller than Cotylorhynchus, even the largest example of the fearsome Dimetrodon was still only half its size.
Their skulls are distinctive in the presence of large temporal openings and very large nostril openings, which could have been utilized for better breathing or may have housed some sort of sensory or moisture conserving organ. Also they featured large pineal openings and a snout or upper jaw that overhangs the row of teeth to form a projecting rostrum. Rounded deep pits and possibly large depressions were present on the outer surface of the skull. Their teeth were very similar to those of iguanas with posterior marginal teeth that bore a longitudinal row of cusps.
Their skeletal features included a massive scapulocoracoid, humeri with large flared ends, stout forearm bones and broad, robust hands that had large claws. Certain features of their hands indicate that they had to dig considerably to obtain their food supply and also they may have used these features to dig burrows for shelter or safety. Their digits were believed to have a considerable range of motion and large retractor processes on the ventral surfaces of the unguals allowed them to flex their claws with powerful motions. Also, the articulatory surfaces of their phalanges were oblique to the bone's long axis rather than perpendicular to it. This allowed for much more surface area for the flexor muscles.
Cotylorhynchus were considered a part of the first wave of amniote diversity. There have been three species of Cotylorhynchus discovered: C. hancocki, C. romeri and C. bransoni. C. hancocki is believed to be a descendent of the slightly smaller C. romeri.
- Various skeletal parts of C. romeri have been found around central Oklahoma in parts of Cleveland County.
- C. bransoni specimens have been uncovered in Kingfisher and Blaine Counties of central-northwest Oklahoma.
Cotylorhynchus belongs to the family Caseidae, a family of massively built synapsids with small heads and barrel-like bodies. It was a derived member of Caseidae. It is a sister taxon of Angelosaurus.
Below is a cladogram by Maddin et al. in 2008.
- Maddin, Hillary C.; Sidor, Christian A.; Reisz, Robert R. (2008). "Cranial Anatomy of Ennatosaurus tecton (Synapsid: Caseidae) From the Middle Permian of Russia and the Evolutionary Relationships of Caseidae". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28 (1): 161. doi:10.1671/0272-4634(2008)28[160:CAOETS]2.0.CO;2.
- "http://palaeos.com/vertebrates/synapsida/caseasauria.html". Retrieved 27 August 2012.
- "Fossil Evidence Permian". Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
- "Cotylorhynchus". Prehistoric-wildlife. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Stovall, J. Willis; Price, Llewellyn; Romer, Alfred (1966). "The Postcranial Skeleton of the Giant Permian Pelycosaur Cotylorhynchus romeri". Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 135 (1). Retrieved 27 August 2012.
- Maddin et al (2008). Cranial anatomy of "Ennatosaurus tecton" (Synapsida: Caseidae) from the middle permian of russia and the evolutionary relationships of Caseidae. p. 173. Retrieved 26 November 2013.