The last "pelycosaur": a varanopid synapsid from the Pristerognathus Assemblage Zone, Middle Permian of South Africa
We report on a partial varanopid skull and mandible from the Pristerognathus Assemblage Zone of the Beaufort Group, in the South African Karoo Basin, which is probably latest Middle Permian (Capitanian) in age. This mycterosaurine is not only the youngest known varanopid from the Southern Hemisphere, but it is also the youngest known "pelycosaur" (i.e., non-therapsid synapsid). Like all other members of this clade of hypercarnivores, the teeth are strongly flattened, recurved, and have finely serrated cutting edges. The anterior dentary teeth form a caniniform region, and the splenial features a foramen intermandibularis oralis, the first ever to be described in a "pelycosaur." The last varanopids were the smallest carnivores of latest Middle Permian continental faunas. Occupation of the small carnivore guild appears to have allowed varanopids to achieve a nearly cosmopolitan distribution throughout the Middle Permian, between the great Early Permian radiation of basal synapsids and the spectacular diversification of therapsid synapsids in the Late Permian and Early Triassic.