Johannesburg, South Africa – A new study conducted by palaeontologists from the National Museum, Bloemfontein and published on 5 April in Scientific Reports, seems to have discovered the reason why Lystrosaurus, a prehistoric animal, could survive one of the most disastrous mass extinctions in the world’s history.

252 million years ago, a sudden climate shift wiped out a huge amount of animal species. But one species managed to survive. The study claims they have reached the conclusion: They said the ancient mammal adapted to drastic climate change by having shorter life expectancies.

The skeleton of a Fossil Lystrosaurus. On display at Zurich natural history museum. Credit: Wikipedia

National Museum palaeontologist Jennifer Botha-Brink said that with the world currently facing its sixth mass extinction, palaeontological research can help us understand how and why some animals, such as those like Lystrosaurus, thrived in the face of disaster.

“Studying the reasons for differential survival in response to dramatic environmental perturbation amongst extinct species will allow us to better predict how today’s climate change will affect modern species,” Botha-Brink said.

Bone structure helps determinate survival strategy

Researchers examined growth patterns in therapsid Lystrosaurus, ancient mammals that resided in the South African Karoo Basin and based on the bone structure and the distribution of its body size, palaeontologists discovered that the animals had a deal with the mass extinction by living shorter periods of life than they previously had.

The researchers also reported a physical change for Lystrosaurus, they had also become hundreds of pounds smaller. Before the mass extinction, these animals were as large as a small hippopotamus, but after the extinction event, they became just about as small as a big dog.

Study co-author Ken Angielczyk explained during a press release that before the therapsid Lystrosaurus extinction, they had a lifespan of about 13 or 14 years based on the record of growth preserved in their bones.

However, nearly all of the Lystrosaurus specimens they found from after the extinction were only 2 to 3 years old. This implies that they must have been breeding when they were still juveniles.

Source: Nature