Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/537

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VERTEBRATE LIFE IN AMERICA.

Reptiles and birds form the next great division of vertebrates, the Sauropsida, and of these the reptiles are the older type, and may be first considered. While it may be stated with certainty that there is at present no evidence of the existence of this group in American rocks older than the Carboniferous, there is some doubt in regard to their appearance even in this period. Various footprints which strongly resemble those made by lizards, a few well-preserved remains similar to the corresponding bones in that group, and a few characteristic specimens, nearly identical with those from another order of this class, are known from American Coal-Measures. These facts, and some others which point in the same direction, render it probable that we may soon have conclusive evidence of the presence of true reptiles in this formation, and in our overlying Permian, which is essentially a part of the same series. In the Permian rocks of Europe true reptiles have been found.

The Mesozoic period has been called the Age of Reptiles, and during its continuance some of the strangest forms of reptilian life made their appearance, and became extinct. Near its commencement, while the Triassic shales and sandstones were being deposited, true reptiles were abundant. Among the most characteristic remains discovered are those of the genus Belodon, which is well known also in the Trias of Europe. It belongs to the Thecodont division of reptiles, which have teeth in distinct sockets, and its nearest affinities are with the Crocodilia, of which order it may be considered the oldest known representative. In the same strata in which the Belodonts occur, remains of Dinosaurs are found, and it is a most interesting fact that these highest of reptiles should make their appearance, even in a generalized form, at this stage of the earth's history. The Dinosaurs, although true reptiles in all their more important characters, show certain well-marked points of resemblance to existing birds of the order Ratitæ, a group which includes the ostriches; and it is not improbable that they were the parent-stock from which birds originated.

During Triassic time, the Dinosaurs attained in America an enormous development both in variety of forms and in size. Although comparatively few of their bones have as yet been discovered in the rocks of this country, they have left unmistakable evidence of their presence in the footprints and other impressions upon the shores of the waters which they frequented. The Triassic sandstone of the Connecticut Valley has long been famous for its fossil footprints, especially the so-called "bird-tracks," which are generally supposed to have been made by birds, the tracks of which many of them closely resemble. A careful investigation, however, of nearly all the specimens yet discovered has convinced me that there is not a particle of evidence that any of these fossil impressions were made by birds. Most of these three-toed tracks were certainly not made by birds; but by quadrupeds, which usually walked upon their hind-feet alone,