Evolution of Reptiles
Reptiles originated approximately 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. One of the oldest known amniotes is Casineria, which had both amphibian and reptilian characteristics. One of the earliest undisputed reptile fossils was Hylonomus, a lizardlike animal about 20 cm long. Soon after the first amniotes appeared, they diverged into three groups—synapsids, anapsids, and diapsids—during the Permian period. The Permian period also saw a second major divergence of diapsid reptiles into stem archosaurs (predecessors of thecodonts, crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds) and lepidosaurs (predecessors of snakes and lizards). These groups remained inconspicuous until the Triassic period, when the archosaurs became the dominant terrestrial group possibly due to the extinction of large-bodied anapsids and synapsids during the Permian-Triassic extinction. About 250 million years ago, archosaurs radiated into the pterosaurs and both saurischian “lizard hip” and ornithischian “bird-hip” dinosaurs (see below).
Although they are sometimes mistakenly called dinosaurs, the pterosaurs were distinct from true dinosaurs (Figure). Pterosaurs had a number of adaptations that allowed for flight, including hollow bones (birds also exhibit hollow bones, a case of convergent evolution). Their wings were formed by membranes of skin that attached to the long, fourth finger of each arm and extended along the body to the legs.