What was the ancient animal Orobates? © Thomas Martens

What was the ancient animal Orobates?

Orobates was not a dinosaur, but a member of an earlier group named diadectids.

Orobates is a member of an extinct group of ancient tetrapods called diadectids and lived around 260 million years ago during what’s known as the Middle Permian period.

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Diadectids were superficially lizard-shaped, chunky and had a robustly constructed skull adapted for the consumption of tough plant material. They might have eaten small animals too. They were – so far as we know – the very first group of tetrapods to become specialised herbivores and their bulky, barrel-shaped bodies contained the large guts needed for the digestion of plant material.

Diadectids were also the first tetrapod group to evolve large size, the biggest reaching three metres and perhaps 150kg. This makes it a giant compared to the majority of other ancient land-living tetrapods. Orobates was not quite so big, at 85cm and 4kg.

Orobates is a relatively new addition to the diadectid group and was scientifically named and described in 2004. It was discovered in the Bromacker sandstone quarry in the Thuringian Forest of central Germany, a locality famous for its many well-preserved Permian fossils.

When Orobates was alive, Germany was landlocked and part of the gigantic supercontinent Pangaea. Conditions across Pangaea were hot and mostly dry, and land-living animals were adapted to cope with the conditions. Many were capable of building burrows where they took refuge during the day, and this was likely the case for Orobates. It appears to have been a good walker and mostly an animal of upland environments, rather than swamps or valleys.

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