5 Life Lessons From Our Cousin, Dimetrodon

Julia Kennedy - Marketing & Aud Dev Associate

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We took a ‘We Know What Dinosaur Best Fits With Your Personality’ quiz and boy, was it disappointing.

Looks like someone at Buzzfeed needs to go on our AMNH tour.

Dominating the Permian Period, Dimetrodon is often lumped in with the dinosaurs, possibly due to its lizard-like appearance.

But – the humble Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur.

(Wait – does that mean that the dinosaur that fits our personality is actually nothing? Is that some kind of backhanded insult Buzzfeed?? What gives!)

What Dimetrodon is, is one of our oldest cousins. And like any scaly family member, Dimetrodon has a lot of advice to give. Here are five life lessons we learned from Dimetrodon.

Lesson #1: Whatever You Are, You Do You

Dimetrodons (and many of the other animals it lived alongside) had jumbles of traits that were a little reptilian and a little mammalian, earning them the paradoxical-sounding name “mammal-like reptiles.”

The scientific name is stem-mammals, meaning Dimetrodon had some game-changing adaptations that foreshadowed the rise of the multitude of different mammal species.

Despite going through a number of different name changes throughout its #complicated fossil history, Dimetrodon has always totally owned its stem-mammal status. The lesson? Always be confident in what you are – even if what you are is a little bit weird.

#2:  Strive to Be Efficient

Most prehistoric types had rows of identical teeth, simple multi-taskers that all served the same function. For example, carnivores tended to have pointed teeth that all served to cut through meat.

Unitasker Suchomimus teeth by James St. John via Flickr

But Dimetrodon had secret swiss army knife in its jaws, with different teeth for different jobs. This perfect Permian butcher had long canine-like teeth for killing prey up front, distinct incisors, and teeth in the back that pointed backward, designed for straight-up dismembering carcasses. Combined, these allowed the Dimetrodon to devour prey quickly and efficiently.

And while we all know of the serrated edges found on one of the most fearsome predators, the T. Rex, Dimetrodon was one of the earliest creatures to have them. Remember the saying – if a job has once begun, never leave it till it’s done, be the labor big or small, do it well or not at all. Dimetrodon, with its strong and fierce teeth, was aces at finishing its jo… er, meals.

#3: Stand Tall and Exude Confidence

If you’ve seen pictures of Dimetrodon, odds are they showed the animal in a sprawling posture – like it’s doing a push up with its belly and tail dragging on the ground. But just like many other prehistoric animals and dinosaurs, this myth has been busted.

Experts who have examined fossil tracks found in Oklahoma theorized they were made by Dimetrodon, suggesting that the animal was probably capable of what’s known as a ‘high walk’ (very Princess Diaries). Dimetrodon’s belly and much of its tail would have been raised off the ground with its legs partially straight, giving it a stance somewhere in-between a lizard and a mammal (see a theme yet?). This stem-mammal strut would not only have made Dimetrodon faster and more nimble than its prey, it also would have required much less energy, giving it a leg up on its competition.

Yaaasss girl, werk | Source: Wikimedia Commons

#4: Prioritize IRL Communication

Ok, so at this point you’re probably thinking: That’s all cool but for real, what’s up with the sail?

For a long time, the sail of bone and skin on Dimetrodon’s back was thought to be some type of temperature regulator, and many experts still stick to this idea.

But others have offered up new theories about the sail and what it can tell us about stem mammals.

A 2010 study that compared Dimetrodon specimens at different ages found its sail grew quickly, with juveniles sprouting sails disproportionately large for their body size. Just like teenagers today, the study suggests that rather than serving as a solar panel, Dimetrodon may have used its sail for something even more crucial to its survival – communication with others of its kind.

And if Dimetrodon had its sail with it at all times, we’re certainly not going to feel guilty about being smart-phone lovers.

Whether the sail of Dimetrodon was used as a mating display, to threaten rivals, or as the earliest version of AIM, communication to those close-by was vital to its survival.

Lesson #5: You Are Resilient

While the reign of Dimetrodon ended around 270 million years ago, it managed to live through one of the largest environmental catastrophes, known literally as the Great Dying (#DramaticAF). The Great Dying spelled disaster for nearly all the stem-mammals, but the Dimetrodon lived 20 million years after the event, ensuring that not all was lost for our mammal lineage.


Proving once again, the true moral of Jurassic Park | Source: Giphy

The stem-mammal’s ability to adapt, embodied in the Dimetrodon, allowed some to survive, and these creatures went on to diversify over the next 20 million years, evolving into everything from tiny mice burrowers to saber-toothed giants.

And eventually, stem-mammals evolved into you and me.

So what have we learned?

  • Dimetrodon was a unique creature, living its best life owning up to its stem mammal status, despite it going through some serious name-changes.
  • Dimetrodon’s variety of teeth remind us to do a job once, and correctly.
  • Dimetrodon didn’t shimmy like its amphibious counterparts. They stood tall and walked high. So go ahead and channel your inner Dimetrodon, pretending you always have a tiny invisible crown on your head, and stand tall.
  • Communication is fast and furious these days with all the tech we have around us. And while we’re not ready to fully unplug, we can learn a lesson from Dimetrodon and its omnipresent sail about the value of IRL communication.
  • The Dimetrodon lived through something scientists in their infinite creativity called the Great Dying. No matter what you’re going through, you can get through it.

So while it might be hard to visualize Dimetrodon as our long-lost cousin, we still owe a great deal to them. And by understanding more about Dimetrodon, you might just learn a thing or two about yourself, too.

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