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What Was the Jurassic Period?

The Jurassic Period, a chapter of Earth's deep past, spanned from about 201 to 145 million years ago. It was a time when dinosaurs reigned supreme, lush forests thrived, and the first birds took flight. This era's rich biodiversity and colossal creatures continue to captivate us. How did these ancient beings live and evolve? Join us as we uncover the secrets of the Jurassic.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Jurassic period was a geologic period in the middle of the Mesozoic. It extends from about 200 million years ago to 145 million years ago. During the Jurassic period, the dinosaurs continued their dominance of the land, while marine reptiles such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and marine crocodiles occupied the sea.

The Jurassic period is one of the periods of life on Earth most familiar to the average person, because it has been extensively romanticized since the initial discovery of dinosaur fossils in the early nineteenth century. The entire Mesozoic is referred to as the "Age of the Dinosaurs", just as the more recent Cenozoic is called the "Age of Mammals."

A map of Pangaea, the giant continent that existed during the Jurassic period.
A map of Pangaea, the giant continent that existed during the Jurassic period.

The sauropods were the dominant reptiles on land, including Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, and numerous others. The largest sauropods were the largest terrestrial animals ever to exist. Experts in biomechanics think the largest sauropods approached the theoretical size limits that a land animal could be and still support its own massive weight. Some of these animals were so big, they had brains in their tails, because their nerve impulses could not travel fast enough to the far reaches of their enormous bodies!

Dinosaurs were the dominant creatures during the Jurassic period.
Dinosaurs were the dominant creatures during the Jurassic period.

The first birds evolved during the late Jurassic period, and one of the most famous fossils of Archaeopteryx dates to 150 million years ago. The fringes of Pangaea were covered in huge evergreen forests with conifers as tall as those in the greatest modern forests.

Rather than being filled with birds, the sky was occupied by the flying reptile pterosaurs, which were the first vertebrates to evolve flight. Although sometimes erroneously referred to as "dinosaurs," the term dinosaur refers specifically to the superorder Dinosauria, consisting only of land reptiles with a unique upright stance. The sea was occupied by ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs, as it had been since shortly after the Permian-Triassic extinction.

During the Jurassic period, the world got progressively warmer and wetter, allowing for more forests on the continent Pangaea. Pangaea began to spread apart slightly. The greater proximity of increasing amounts of land to water modulated temperature extremes, making possible ecological stability and the growth of huge, lush forests.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...

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    • A map of Pangaea, the giant continent that existed during the Jurassic period.
      By: designua
      A map of Pangaea, the giant continent that existed during the Jurassic period.
    • Dinosaurs were the dominant creatures during the Jurassic period.
      By: Kabacchi
      Dinosaurs were the dominant creatures during the Jurassic period.