Diplocaulus is an extinct genus of amphibians belonging to the group of lepospondyles, primitive tetrapods that inhabited the earth for more than 70 million years.

Diplocaulus should never be confused with a dinosaur, as it even lived before them. This ancient amphibian disappeared completely from our planet when the dinosaurs began to inhabit it.

To be specific, they inhabited during what is now known as the Paleozoic Era. This era is the one that happened just before the appearance of the dinosaurs. The Diplocaulus, within the Paleozoic Era, specifically inhabited the subdivision known as the Permian.

The characteristic feature of the Diplocaulus were their spectacular heads, as they had a somewhat shocking appearance, with a very large dimension and totally disproportionate to the rest of the body.

In addition, this prehistoric amphibian has the title of being one of the largest lipospodyles ever found. Read on to discover extensive and detailed information about Diplocaulus!

Taxonomy of Diplocaulus

  • The kingdom that Diplocaulus belonged to is Animalia.
  • We found it classified on the phylum Chordata.
  • This specimen belonged to the superclass Tetrapoda.
  • The class in which it is classified is Amphibia.
  • We found it in the Lepospondyli subclass.
  • The order it belonged to is Nectridea.
  • It’s classified in the family Keraterpetontidae.
  • The genus we’re referring to in this article is Diplocaulus.

Within the genus Diplocaulus we can find several species, let’s see below what they are:

  • D. Brevirostris.
  • D. Magnicornis.
  • D. Minimal.
  • D. Recurvatus.
  • D. Salamander.

However, we must clarify that in the future it is possible that the list will increase if new fossil remains are discovered that could indicate so, or decrease if it is discovered that two species actually belong to one.

From this platform we will keep ourselves informed to update the list in case of possible modifications in the taxonomy of this peculiar extinct amphibian.

Basic information about this prehistoric amphibian

As we have already noted in the introduction, Diplocaulus was an animal with a head that was disproportionately large in relation to its body, this being one of its most characteristic features.

It is a spectacular animal that inhabited the Permian and despite its ancestral existence we now have a large number of scientific documents about it.

But before starting to provide more specific data about it, let’s see its basic characteristics to get an idea of its appearance:

  • How long was it? – Between 80 centimeters and 1 meter long.
  • What was his height? – Approximately 10 centimeters.
  • What was his weight? – His estimated weight was about seven kilograms.
  • When did he live? – He started living about 297 million years ago until about 284 million years ago.

His group, the lepospondyles

To know better our amphibian friend, it is advisable to start with the group to which this genus belongs, the lepospondilos , which includes several prehistoric amphibians and obviously the genus that occupies this article, known as Diplocaulus.

Let’s see below some features and characteristics of the lepospondilos.

Lepospondyles are very diverse in their forms, some are eel-shaped, others are newt-shaped, lizard-shaped or even snake-shaped. Although there is one thing they all agree on, no matter what shape they were, none of them were big enough.

There were different types of lepospondyles, some were aquatic, some were semi-aquatic, and others were completely terrestrial, although not completely independent of water.

The place where this group of extinct animals inhabited were remote and totally specialized areas for them, this is because there was a much more numerous group of amphibians that covered the other areas and that cohabited with them, the temnospondilos.

What would have totally differentiated the lepospondilos from their cousins is the morphology of their notochord, an embryonic structure typical of the phylum Chordata.

In this case, ossified vertebral centers emerged from the notochord sheaths and these were linked to the neural arch. These vertebral centers were shaped like cylinders and were really elongated.

As you can see, there are various generic characteristics that have been clearly observed about this group, perhaps they do not seem to you many but even so, it is really fascinating how little we know about them if we consider how very old their existence was on our planet.

Description of Diplocaulus

Having entered a little bit into the situation and having a general idea about the group it belongs to, we are now ready to find out more about the extinct amphibian in today’s article.

Next we will see what the characteristic features of Diplocaulus were.

The dimensions of this amphibian were quite big compared to the rest of its group. The Diplocaulus was approximately one meter in size and would have been a fairly flat animal, with a height of only 10 centimeters.

Given its proportions we cannot expect a large body weight either, only about 7 kilograms approximately.

As a whole we can say that its body was quite short, wide and robust, keeping a certain similarity with other aquatic amphibians although the really curious thing about it are the two large bumps on either side of its skull.

This is the reason why its head adopted the shape of a boomerang, which is perfectly visible and notorious in the reconstructed images you can observe.

However, the skull of a young Diplocaulus looks more like that of a modern-day salamander and as it grows it progressively adopts the characteristic boomerang shape.

The functions of its strange head are being shuffled around. Some consider that it would have served to help the animal move through the water, acting as a hydrofoil.

Others consider that it could have served as a defensive method, for the simple fact that it would be relatively complicated for a predator to swallow the entire head of the Diplocaulus due to its large width, we are talking about approximately 70 centimeters.

The way it would have swam was by waving its arms up and down like today’s dolphins and whales do. This is deduced because it had very fragile and weak limbs and a rather long tail.

The head would also have helped to swim when the animal was waving it back and forth.

The life of Diplocaulus on planet Earth

On this platform we are used to talking in reference to the Mesozoic Era since all the dinosaurs that have existed inhabited our planet during this period, not in vain it is also known as the era of the dinosaurs.

Even so, we make certain exceptions and also talk about prehistoric animals, in the case of the Diplocaulus, we must go back even further to the past, just before the Mesozoic Era.

These amphibians would have appeared on our planet about 297 million years ago. This coincides with the Paleozoic Era, yet this era spans many millions of years and to be more specific we must place ourselves at the beginning of the Permian Period.

In other words, Diplocaulus would have begun to inhabit the land in the Permian and developed their existence for 13 million years before their extinction, which is estimated to have occurred some 284 million years ago.

This period of time occurs in the Cisuralian Epoch (subdivision of the Period) and within it we can distinguish three ages:

Asselian Age (299 to 295 million years ago)
Sakmariense Age (295.5 to 290 mill. ago)
Artikian Age (290 to 279 million ago)
During the whole Permian Period (299 to 251 million years ago) several climatic changes can be observed, where the tropical climate prevailed.

This resulted in the extinction of many species of amphibians and ferns that required moisture to survive, as the tropical climate brought with it rather dry and arid conditions.

The natural habitat of Diplocaulus would have been the large pools and swamps of what is now North America. This provided them with the possibility of getting into the water and getting out on land as the amphibian animal that it is.

What was their diet?

Diplocaulus fed on the various fish in the ponds and marshes. They used a camouflage strategy to do this, sticking to the bottom of the water and waiting for their prey.

Having their eyes placed on the top of their heads, they could see perfectly when an animal that could be hunted passed by to lift and suck (like a vacuum cleaner) the prey, as giant salamanders do today.

It mainly fed on small fish, however, it would have also fed on other smaller amphibians or insects.

We hope you found this information about Diplocaulus useful. We will be happy to receive in our comment box your doubts, contributions and suggestions related to this fascinating prehistoric animal.