|Name Meaning||“Double-stalk”||Height||1.01 meters (3.3 feet)|
|Pronunciation||dip-loh-KAW-lus.||Length||0.91 meter (3 feet)|
|Era||Paleozoic – Late Carboniferous to Permian||Weight||2.3–4.5 kg (5–10 lbs)|
|Classification||Temnospondyli, Lepospondyli & Nectridea||Location||USA (North America), Morocco (Africa)|
Diplocaulus Amphibian Pictures
Diplocaulus was a primitive amphibian that lived between the Late Carboniferous period and the Permian period (about 300–250 Million years ago).
This ancient amphibian was a Lepospondyli, a diverse group of early tetrapods that are considered ancestors of modern amphibians.
Members of this group had eel-like, newt-like, or lizard-like body forms, and Diplocaulus was the largest of them all.
It was also the best-known member of this group.
Fossils of this lepospondyl amphibian have been discovered in locations across North America and Africa.
Diplocaulus is known for its distinctive boomerang-shaped head, which makes it quite recognizable.
It is one of the most popular fossil animals from the Paleozoic era and has contributed to our understanding of Paleozoic ecosystems as well as the evolution of members of the amphibian group.
In this guide, we’ll explore the various aspects of Diplocaulus’ life.
Diplocaulus was a newt-like amphibian with a stocky body and a bony head shaped like a boomerang.
The name “Diplocaulus” translates as a “double caul” and is a reference to this creature’s unique skull plates that projected sideways on both sides.
It had a cylindrical-shaped body and a long tail.
The long, thin tail of this ancient predator was probably long enough to reach its head when curled up.
Diplocaulus was the largest member of the Lepospondyli group ever found.
The amphibian was up to one meter (3.3 feet) in length.
The Diplocaulus’ most distinctive feature was the pair of long protrusions (horns) on the rear end of its skull.
These sideward protruding horns are seen in many of the closest relatives of this genus.
They give the Diplocaulus’ head a unique boomerang-like shape.
Additionally, it had two small eyes located at the top of its skull.
It also had tiny nostrils, which gave the amphibian’s face a strange appearance.
The entire head was flattened from top-to-bottom. It was made up of bony plates that may have served defensive or display purposes.
In addition to the bony plates on its head, Diplocaulus may have had rows of small, sharp spikes running along its back.
These spikes would have provided extra protection for the ancient amphibian against potential predators.
Diplocaulus had small paddle-like limbs on the underside of its body.
They were probably located towards the side and were adapted for an aquatic lifestyle rather than for walking on land.
Habitat and Distribution
Fossils of different species of Diplocaulus have been recovered from Late Permian rocks in Morocco and other locations across North America, including present-day Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
The presence of this dinosaur across two different continents is explained by the fact that the earth’s continents formed a single landmass during the Permian (approximately 300 million years ago).
Earth’s environment was also significantly different during the Permian period.
The supercontinent Pangea was warm and humid, with tropical or subtropical climatic conditions.
The areas where Diplocaulus fossils have been found are characterized by extensive swamps, lakes, rivers, and forests of primitive plants.
Diplocaulus inhabited freshwater environments alongside various aquatic organisms, including other amphibians, fish, crustaceans, and insects.
This species likely occupied a specific niche as a predator in this aquatic ecosystem, preying on smaller animals.
Although considered an amphibian, Diplocaulus was probably not capable of walking or moving effectively on land.
Based on its general body shape and limb structure, it was probably better suited to live in an aquatic environment but could breathe air directly since it had nostrils.
The limbs of the Diplocaulus were not designed for weight-bearing or walking on land like the limbs of regular land-dwelling animals.
Behavior and Diet
Diplocaulus was an amphibian, but it was well-adapted to an aquatic lifestyle.
It had a streamlined body shape, paddle-like limbs, and a long tail.
All of these features suggest that it was a competent swimmer.
It likely used its eel-like tail to propel itself through the water.
The paddle-like limbs would have helped with steering as well.
The position of the eyes of this amphibious creature on the top of its head is an indication that it probably spent a significant amount of time close to the water’s surface.
It probably used its eyes to spot prey or potential threats in the environment.
Diplocaulus was primarily a solitary creature, living and hunting alone.
However, like most amphibians today, individuals may have paired up or gathered in small groups to mate and nest during the breeding season.
Diplocaulus may have exhibited other seasonal habits as well, such as aestivation.
During seasons of drought, the amphibian probably hid in soft bottom mud and curled up there in a state of suspended animation until the conditions were favorable again.
Scientists think Diplocaulus lived on a carnivorous diet.
It probably fed on small aquatic animals, such as fish, crustaceans, and insects, in its habitat.
It had specialized jaws and sharp teeth that were equipped for capturing and consuming its prey.
Like present-day amphibians, Diplocaulus is most likely an egg-laying amphibian.
Mating would have occurred during specific seasons of the year and may have involved elaborate displays.
Some scientists believe the flat fan-like head of this species served display purposes.
Males would have used this to attract females for mating.
After mating, females laid eggs in water from which newborn juveniles would hatch.
There’s limited information about the specific number of eggs or the nesting behavior of the Diplocaulus.
Their eggs probably developed in water, with a larval stage similar to that of toads or frogs.
Diplocaulus larvae would have had external gills which they used to extract oxygen from the water around them.
The larvae would have undergone gradual development, during which the external gills would be absorbed, and their general morphology would change to typical adult form.
Young Diplocaulus would also develop lungs during this process which made it possible to breathe air directly.
Due to limited fossil evidence, the exact duration of this larval stage is uncertain.
Generally, the life cycle of this amphibious species is similar to that of other prehistoric animals, especially amphibians and reptiles that lived during the Permian period.
Many of them exhibited a fully aquatic larval stage followed by terrestrial or semi-terrestrial adulthood.
Evolution and History
Diplocaulus is a member of a group of prehistoric amphibians known as Lepospondyli.
Members of this group were quite widespread during the Permian and Triassic periods.
Lepospondyls were diverse in terms of their size, morphology, and ecological distribution.
Diplocaulus is one of the largest and best-known members of this group.
The evolution of the Lepospondyli lineage can be traced back to the Early Carboniferous period (about 360 million years ago), and their distribution was geographically limited to an area that’s now present-day Europe, Africa, and North America.
The ancestors of the Lepospondyli were aquatic, with fish-like body forms.
With time, this group would undergo significant evolutionary changes characterized by the development of a newt-like body shape and transition to an amphibian lifestyle.
Diplocaulus emerged towards the end of the Carboniferous Period or the beginning of the Permian period (approximately 300 million years ago).
It was a specialized branch of the Lepospondyli lineage, characterized by a distinct head shape and protruding bony plates.
While the Lepospondyli group included aquatic, semiaquatic, and fully terrestrial species, this amphibian species was more closely related to the terrestrial species than the fully aquatic ones, but it did not venture on the land.
The bony plates on the sides of the Diplocaulus’ head were unique among its relatives.
They probably evolved this feature for a specific purpose ranging from defense to communication or courtship display, but there’s no way to tell for sure.
At least five species have been identified in the Diplocaulus genus so far. The first, D. salamandroides, was discovered in Danville, Illinois, by William Gurley and J.C. Winslow.
The first official description of the fossil was published in 1877.
Several other fossils of this species and others have been discovered across various locations in North America and Africa.
Interactions With Other Species
The Permian period was a time of significant diversity in Earth’s natural ecosystem.
During this period, amphibians were emerging as a dominant vertebrate group and were commonly found at the land-water margins.
Diplocaulus was one of the most successful amphibians of this period.
Still, the abundance of other aquatic and terrestrial lifeforms means it would have interacted with several other species within its ecosystem.
As a niche predator in its freshwater environment, this enigmatic creature preyed on smaller aquatic organisms such as fish, marine crustaceans, and primitive members of the insect class.
The streamlined body and specialized limbs, and tail would have helped this amphibian with chasing and capturing prey.
However, given its size, Diplocaulus probably faced threats from larger aquatic predators in its ecosystem as well.
These could have included larger amphibians, as well as early reptiles that were just emerging during the Permian period.
Many scientists think the large bony plates on the Diplocaulus head were an adaptation to protect it from potential predators.
They would have had a difficult time swallowing this creature.
We know of at least one possible predator for this primitive amphibian, which is the sail-backed synapsid called Dimetrodon.
Scientists once found a burrow containing three juvenile Diplocaulus that were likely unearthed and killed by a Dimetrodon.
Parts of the skull of the juveniles were bitten by the much larger predator.
Apart from predators, this ancient swimmer may have faced competition for food and other resources from other amphibians and reptiles with overlapping ecological niches.
Diplocaulus is one of the most recognizable creatures of the Paleozoic era.
As one of the youngest-known lepospondyl, the discovery of this amphibious species has played a significant role in scientific research related to this prehistoric amphibian group.
Studying this genus has aided our knowledge of the lepospondyl group, their evolutionary history, and the prehistoric ecosystems where they lived.
Apart from the position in the lepospondyl family, studying Diplocaulus and its relatives has also provided scientists with a better understanding of the prehistoric amphibians that lived during the Permian period in general.
These amphibians were the apex predators of the earth’s continents, so understanding their habits and evolution has always been a priority to scientists.
The unique boomerang-shaped head of this ancient amphibian predator is its most prominent feature, and it’s of specific interest to scientists.
Experts have put forward various hypotheses to explain this unusual skull morphology.
These range from usage as a burrowing tool to a defensive adaptation.
Diplocaulus has made appearances in various media that explore the prehistoric life of ancient animals.
It has been featured in books such as the Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals written by Donald R. Prothero.
This book includes a section on the origin and evolution of early mammals.
Several other documentaries and various artistic renditions depicting the ancient world also feature the Diplocaulus.
This depiction often focuses on the distinctive head shape and bony plates, which makes it such a visually striking animal.
Diplocaulus was a lepospondyl amphibian that lived during the Late Carboniferous and Permian periods (about 300 to 250 million years ago).
It was first discovered in North America, but fossils of different species have been found in Africa as well.
Diplocaulus is the largest known member of the lepospondyl group, a family of amphibians that dominated the late Paleozoic era.
It is known for its flat, boomerang-shaped head formed by bony plates protruding from the side of its skull.
It was an amphibian capable of breathing air with its nostrils.
However, it lived primarily in freshwater habitats and was a dominant aquatic predator.
It hunted small to medium-sized fish and invertebrates in its habitat and was prey to larger amphibians and prehistoric reptiles as well.
Diplocaulus is one of the best-known members of the lepospondyl group.
Scientists have studied different aspects of its anatomy, behavior, and evolution, but certain attributes, such as the function of its wide head, remain subject to ongoing debate and future scientific research.
What does the name “Diplocaulus” mean?
The name “Diplocaulus” is derived from Greek words. “Diplo” means double, and “caulus” means stalk.
It refers to the animal’s unique double-stalked appearance.
Did Diplocaulus live in water or on land?
Diplocaulus was primarily an aquatic creature.
Its streamlined body and paddle-like limbs indicate that it was well-adapted for swimming and maneuvering in the water.
While it may have ventured onto land occasionally, it was not suited for prolonged terrestrial locomotion.
Was Diplocaulus a carnivore or herbivore?
Diplocaulus was a carnivore.
It ate fish and small invertebrates, such as crustaceans that were alive during the Permian period.
Are there any living descendants of Diplocaulus?
No, Diplocaulus and its relatives are extinct.
However, amphibians as a group are still alive today, with frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians representing the modern-day descendants of ancient amphibians.