Smilesaurus, an iconic gorgonopsian that lived during the late Permian in what is now South Africa.

Monstrous ‘gorgonians’ survived a mass extinction, but they were a ‘walking dead clade’

Reports of a mass extinction of “gorgonians” at the end of the Permian period have been greatly exaggerated, according to new research. These strange paleo-beasts were thought to have died out along with most other life on Earth at the time, but scientists have recently discovered that some of these so-called gorgonians survived into the Triassic period. However, they didn’t survive long, making them a “walking dead clade,” the team said.

An analysis of three specimens found in the Karoo Basin in South Africa reveals that this saber-toothed group, known as gorgonopsians, were the dominant predators at the end Permian period, managed to survive the “Great Death”. During this event, which took place around 251.9 million years ago and was also known as the Late Permian Extinction, around 90% of all species disappeared. Gorgonopsians were an exception – but despite their survival, their prospects were not great.

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