Evolution Trivia Quiz

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10. Potholes on the road of life

In today’s tender-hearted times, to contemplate the suffering of a single animal may evoke a powerful empathetic response in members of our own kind. Think, then, on those occasions in the Earth’s history when not just a single creature but most entire species were obliterated in a short time. Which of the following mass extinction events was the most destructive?

A) End of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago
B) End of the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago
C) End of the Permian Period, 251 million years ago
D) End of the Ordovician Period, 444 million years ago

Your answer — A) End of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago — was incorrect.

We’re lucky to be here. The “great dying”, as it is known, wiped out more than 90% of all species on the planet. Luckily, our own forebears survived that and several other prehistoric cataclysms that could have nipped our line in the bud. Instead, our plucky ancestors took advantage of the suddenly reduced competition to expand into new ecological niches. The causes of the Permian extinction, as with most extinction events, are not known with certainty, but are thought to have included some combination of meteorite impacts, volcanic eruptions, and climate instability. At the time, our plucky ancestors were dicynodont therapsids, whose lineage would spend most of the next two hundred millions years cowering in the shadow of the archosaurs, and their well-known descendants, the dinosaurs.

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