Old Earth Ministries Online Earth History Curriculum

Presented by Old Earth Ministries (We Believe in an Old Earth...and God!)

This curriculum is presented free of charge for use by homeschooling families.

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Chapter 8 - The Permian Period

Lesson 40: Permian Overview


     The Permian is a geologic period and system characterized among land vertebrates by the diversification of the early amniotes into the ancestral groups of the mammals, turtles, lepidosaurs and archosaurs. The Permian period follows the Carboniferous and extends from 299.0 ± 0.8 to 251.0 ± 0.4 Ma (million years before the present). It is the last period of the Paleozoic Era and famous for its ending epoch event, the largest mass extinction known to science. The Permian period was named after the kingdom of Permia in modern-day Russia by Scottish geologist Roderick Murchison in 1841 (not the city of Perm, as commonly misconstrued). 

Chapter 8 - The Permian Period


 Lesson 40 - Permian Overview

 Lesson 41 - The Permian Extinction, Part 1

 Lesson 42 - The Permian Extinction, Part 2

 Lesson 43 - Permian Species In-Depth, Dimetrodon



Permian Fast Facts


Started:  299.0 Ma

Ended:  251.0 Ma

Duration:  48 Million Years

Preceded By: Carboniferous Period

Followed By: Triassic Period



     Sea levels in the Permian remained generally low, and near-shore environments were limited by the collection of almost all major landmasses into a single continent -- Pangaea. This could have in part caused the widespread extinctions of marine species at the end of the period by severely reducing shallow coastal areas preferred by many marine organisms.

PaleogeographyLate Permian

     During the Permian, all the Earth's major land masses except portions of East Asia were collected into a single supercontinent known as Pangaea. Pangaea straddled the equator and extended toward the poles, with a corresponding effect on ocean currents in the single great ocean ("Panthalassa", the "universal sea"), and the Paleo-Tethys Ocean, a large ocean that was between Asia and Gondwana. The Cimmeria continent rifted away from Gondwana and drifted north to Laurasia, causing the Paleo-Tethys to shrink. A new ocean was growing on its southern end, the Tethys Ocean, an ocean that would dominate much of the Mesozoic Era. Large continental landmasses create climates with extreme variations of heat and cold ("continental climate") and monsoon conditions with highly seasonal rainfall patterns. Deserts seem to have been widespread on Pangaea. Such dry conditions favored gymnosperms, plants with seeds enclosed in a protective cover, over plants such as ferns that disperse spores. The first modern trees (conifers, ginkgos and cycads) appeared in the Permian.

     Three general areas are especially noted for their extensive Permian deposits - the Ural Mountains (where Perm itself is located), China, and the southwest of North America, where the Permian Basin in the U.S. state of Texas is so named because it has one of the thickest deposits of Permian rocks in the world.


     The climate in the Permian was quite varied. At the start of the Permian, the Earth was still at the grip of an Ice Age from the Carboniferous. Oxygen levels decreased, wiping out plant life and the some of the giant insects from the Carboniferous.

Marine biota

     Permian marine deposits are rich in fossil mollusks, echinoderms, and brachiopods. Fossilized shells of two kinds of invertebrates are widely used to identify Permian strata and correlate them between sites: fusulinids, a kind of shelled amoeba-like protist that is one of the foraminiferans, and ammonoids, shelled cephalopods that are distant relatives of the modern nautilus. By the close of the Permian, trilobites and a host of other marine groups became extinct.

Terrestrial Biota

     Terrestrial life in the Permian included diverse plants, fungi, arthropods, and various types of tetrapods. The period saw a massive desert covering the interior of the Pangaea. The warm zone spread in the northern hemisphere, where extensive dry desert appeared. The rocks formed at that time were stained red by iron oxides, the result of intense heating by the sun of a surface devoid of vegetation cover. A number of older types of plants and animals died out or became marginal elements.

     The Permian began with the Carboniferous flora still flourishing. About the middle of the Permian a major transition in vegetation began. The swamp-loving lycopod trees of the Carboniferous, such as Lepidodendron and Sigillaria, were progressively replaced in the continental interior by the more advanced seed ferns and early conifers. At the close of the Permian, lycopod and equicete swamps reminiscent of Carboniferous flora was relegated to a series of equatorial islands in the Paleotethys Sea that later would become the South China.

     The Permian saw the radiation of many important conifer groups, including the ancestors of many present-day families. Rich forests were present in many areas, with a diverse mix of plant groups. The southern continent saw extensive seed fern forests of the Glossopteris flora. Oxygen levels were probably high there. The ginkgos and cycads also appeared during this period.

Insects of the Permian

     By the Pennsylvanian and well into the Permian, by far the most successful were primitive relatives of cockroaches. Six fast legs, two well developed folding wings, fairly good eyes, long, well developed antennae (olfactory), an omnivorous digestive system, a receptacle for storing sperm, a chitin skeleton that could support and protect, as well as form of gizzard and efficient mouth parts, gave it formidable advantages over other herbivorous animals. About 90% of insects were cockroach-like insects ("Blattopterans").
dragonflies Odonata were the dominant aerial predator and probably dominated terrestrial insect predation as well. True Odonata appeared in the Permian and all are amphibious. Their prototypes are the oldest winged fossils, go back to the Devonian, and are different from other wings in every way. Their prototypes may have had the beginnings of many modern attributes even by late Carboniferous and it is possible that they even captured small vertebrates, for some species had a wing span of 71 cm. A number of important new insect groups appeared at this time, including the Coleoptera (beetles) and Diptera (flies).

Reptile and amphibian fauna

     Early Permian terrestrial faunas were dominated by pelycosaurs and amphibians, the middle Permian by primitive therapsids such as the dinocephalia, and the late Permian by more advanced therapsids such as gorgonopsians and dicynodonts. Towards the very end of the Permian the first archosaurs appeared, a group that would give rise to the dinosaurs in the following period. Also appearing at the end of the Permian were the first cynodonts, which would go on to evolve into mammals during the Triassic. Another group of therapsids, the therocephalians (such as Trochosaurus), arose in the Middle Permian. There were no aerial vertebrates.
     The Permian period saw the development of a fully terrestrial fauna and the appearance of the first large
herbivores and carnivores. It was the high tide of the anapsides in the form of the massive Pareiasaurs and host of smaller, generally lizard-like groups. A group of small reptiles, the diapsids started to abound. These were the ancestors to most modern reptiles and the ruling dinosaurs as well as pterosaurs and crocodiles.
     Thriving also, were the early ancestors to mammals, the
synapsida, which included some large reptiles such as Dimetrodon. Reptiles grew to dominance among vertebrates, because their special adaptations enabled them to flourish in the drier climate.
     Permian amphibians consisted of
temnospondyli, lepospondyli and batrachosaurs.

Permian Extinction

     The end of the Permian is marked by the greatest extinction event in the geologic record.  The next two lessons will deal with the extinction event.

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Source Pages:  Wikipedia - Permian, Permian Extinction