If there’s a Paleozoic animal that people can reliably recognize, it’s Dimetrodon, even if they’re apt to think of it as a contemporary of dinosaurs. As of this writing, the Dinosaur Toy Blog has 24 reviews tagged ‘Dimetrodon,’ and that’s not even half of what has been produced over the decades.
About 300 kilometers from Sydney lies the town of Canowindra, New South Wales. In the 1950s a road worker in Canowindra chanced upon some fossils, and in the 1990s paleontologists started working on the site in earnest, eventually revealing one of the world’s finest assemblages of freshwater animals from the Late Devonian.
At first glance, the Late Devonian Gogo Reef might have looked roughly similar to a modern reef: colorful, lively, with piles of calcified stationary organisms hosting all sorts of swimming and crawling creatures. But look a little closer, and the reef isn’t made of scleractinian corals, but instead composed mostly of sponges, mats of algae, and rugose and tabulate corals.
It’s easy to think of evolution as a linear process, where one species in the fossil record gives rise to the next in an ever-improving, ever-ascending ladder. But the reality is messier. It’s more like a bush with lots of dead-end branches–any one specimen is unlikely to be our direct ancestor, but many of the transitional forms we find in the fossil record would have been, at least, pretty close relatives of our direct ancestors.