Late Cretaceous

Last updated
Late/Upper Cretaceous
100.5 – 66.0 Ma
Chronology
Etymology
Chronostratigraphic nameUpper Cretaceous
Geochronological nameLate Cretaceous
Name formalityFormal
Usage information
Celestial body Earth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Definition
Chronological unit Epoch
Stratigraphic unit Series
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definition FAD of the Planktonic Foraminifer Rotalipora globotruncanoides
Lower boundary GSSP Mont Risoux, Hautes-Alpes, France
44°23′33″N5°30′43″E / 44.3925°N 5.5119°E / 44.3925; 5.5119
GSSP ratified2002 [2]
Upper boundary definition Iridium enriched layer associated with a major meteorite impact and subsequent K-Pg extinction event.
Upper boundary GSSPEl Kef Section, El Kef, Tunisia
36°09′13″N8°38′55″E / 36.1537°N 8.6486°E / 36.1537; 8.6486
GSSP ratified1991

The Late Cretaceous (100.5–66 Ma) is the younger of two epochs into which the Cretaceous Period is divided in the geologic time scale. Rock strata from this epoch form the Upper Cretaceous Series. The Cretaceous is named after creta, the Latin word for the white limestone known as chalk. The chalk of northern France and the white cliffs of south-eastern England date from the Cretaceous Period. [3]

Contents

Climate

During the Late Cretaceous, the climate was warmer than present, although throughout the period a cooling trend is evident. [4] The tropics became restricted to equatorial regions and northern latitudes experienced markedly more seasonal climatic conditions. [4]

Geography

Late Cretaceous Map (Turonian) LateCretaceousMap.jpg
Late Cretaceous Map (Turonian)

Due to plate tectonics, the Americas were gradually moving westward, causing the Atlantic Ocean to expand. The Western Interior Seaway divided North America into eastern and western halves; Appalachia and Laramidia. [4] India maintained a northward course towards Asia. [4] In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and Antarctica seem to have remained connected and began to drift away from Africa and South America. [4] Europe was an island chain. [4] Populating some of these islands were endemic dwarf dinosaur species. [4]

Vertebrate fauna

Non-avian dinosaurs

In the Late Cretaceous, the hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs, and ceratopsians experienced success in Asiamerica (Western North America and eastern Asia). Tyrannosaurs dominated the large predator niche in North America. [4] They were also present in Asia, although were usually smaller and more primitive than the North American varieties. [4] Pachycephalosaurs were also present in both North America and Asia. [4] Dromaeosaurs shared the same geographical distribution, and are well documented in both Mongolia and Western North America. [4] Additionally therizinosaurs (known previously as segnosaurs) appear to have been in North America and Asia. Gondwana held a very different dinosaurian fauna, with most predators being abelisaurs and carcharodontosaurs; and titanosaurs being among the dominant herbivores. [4] Spinosaurids were also present during this time. [5]

Birds

Birds became increasingly common, diversifying in a variety of enantiornithe and ornithurine forms. Early Neornithes such as Vegavis [6] co-existed with forms as bizarre as Yungavolucris and Avisaurus . [7] Though mostly small, marine Hesperornithes became relatively large and flightless, adapted to life in the open sea. [8]

Pterosaurs

Though primarily represented by azhdarchids, other forms like pteranodontids, tapejarids ( Caiuajara and Bakonydraco ), nyctosaurids and uncertain forms ( Piksi , Navajodactylus ) are also present. Historically, it has been assumed that pterosaurs were in decline due to competition with birds, but it appears that neither group overlapped significantly ecologically, nor is it particularly evident that a true systematic decline was ever in place, especially with the discovery of smaller pterosaur species. [9]

Mammals

Several old mammal groups began to disappear, with the last eutriconodonts occurring in the Campanian of North America. [10] In the northern hemisphere, cimolodont, multituberculates, metatherians and eutherians were the dominant mammals, with the former two groups being the most common mammals in North America. In the southern hemisphere there was instead a more complex fauna of dryolestoids, gondwanatheres and other multituberculates and basal eutherians; monotremes were presumably present, as was the last of the haramiyidans, Avashishta.

Mammals, though generally small, ranged into a variety of ecological niches, from carnivores (Deltatheroida), to mollusc-eater (Stagodontidae), to herbivores (multituberculates, Schowalteria , Zhelestidae and Mesungulatidae) to highly atypical cursorial forms (Zalambdalestidae, Brandoniidae).

True placentals evolved only at the very end of the epoch; the same can be said for true marsupials. Instead, nearly all known eutherian and metatherian fossils belong to other groups. [11]

Marine life

In the seas, mosasaurs suddenly appeared and underwent a spectacular evolutionary radiation. Modern sharks also appeared and giant-penguin-like polycotylid plesiosaurs (3 meters long) and huge long-necked elasmosaurs (13 meters long) also diversified. These predators fed on the numerous teleost fishes, which in turn evolved into new advanced and modern forms (Neoteleostei). Ichthyosaurs and pliosaurs, on the other hand, became extinct during the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event.

Flora

Near the end of the Cretaceous Period, flowering plants diversified. In temperate regions, familiar plants like magnolias, sassafras, roses, redwoods, and willows could be found in abundance. [4]

Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction discovery

The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event was a large-scale mass extinction of animal and plant species in a geologically short period of time, approximately 66  million years ago (Ma). It is widely known as the K–T extinction event and is associated with a geological signature, usually a thin band dated to that time and found in various parts of the world, known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (K–T boundary). K is the traditional abbreviation for the Cretaceous Period derived from the German name Kreidezeit, and T is the abbreviation for the Tertiary Period (a historical term for the period of time now covered by the Paleogene and Neogene periods). The event marks the end of the Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. [12] "Tertiary" being no longer recognized as a formal time or rock unit by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the K-T event is now called the Cretaceous—Paleogene (or K-Pg) extinction event by many researchers.

Asteroids of only a few kilometers wide can release the energy of millions of nuclear weapons when colliding with planets (artist's impression). Impact event.jpg
Asteroids of only a few kilometers wide can release the energy of millions of nuclear weapons when colliding with planets (artist's impression).

Non-avian dinosaur fossils are found only below the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary and became extinct immediately before or during the event. [13] A very small number of dinosaur fossils have been found above the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, but they have been explained as reworked fossils, that is, fossils that have been eroded from their original locations then preserved in later sedimentary layers. [14] [15] [16] Mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and many species of plants and invertebrates also became extinct. Mammalian and bird clades passed through the boundary with few extinctions, and evolutionary radiation from those Maastrichtian clades occurred well past the boundary. Rates of extinction and radiation varied across different clades of organisms. [17]

Many scientists hypothesize that the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinctions were caused by catastrophic events such as the massive asteroid impact that caused the Chicxulub crater, in combination with increased volcanic activity, such as that recorded in the Deccan Traps, both of which have been firmly dated to the time of the extinction event. In theory, these events reduced sunlight and hindered photosynthesis, leading to a massive disruption in Earth's ecology. A much smaller number of researchers believe the extinction was more gradual, resulting from slower changes in sea level or climate. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

The Cretaceous is a geological period that lasted from about 145 to 66 million years ago (Mya). It is the third and final period of the Mesozoic Era, as well as the longest. At around 79 million years, it is the longest geological period of the entire Phanerozoic. The name is derived from the Latin creta, "chalk", which is abundant in the latter half of the period. It is usually abbreviated K, for its German translation Kreide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cenozoic</span> Third era of the Phanerozoic Eon (66 million years ago to present)

The Cenozoic is Earth's current geological era, representing the last 66 million years of Earth's history. It is characterized by the dominance of mammals, birds and flowering plants, a cooling and drying climate, and the current configuration of continents. It is the latest of three geological eras since complex life evolved, preceded by the Mesozoic and Paleozoic. It started with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, when many species, including the non-avian dinosaurs, became extinct in an event attributed by most experts to the impact of a large asteroid or other celestial body, the Chicxulub impactor.

The Mesozoic Era, also called the Age of Reptiles and the Age of Conifers, is the second-to-last era of Earth's geological history, lasting from about 252 to 66 million years ago, comprising the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. It is characterized by the dominance of archosaurian reptiles, like the dinosaurs; an abundance of conifers and ferns; a hot greenhouse climate; and the tectonic break-up of Pangaea. The Mesozoic is the middle of the three eras since complex life evolved: the Paleozoic, the Mesozoic, and the Cenozoic.

The Paleogene is a geologic period and system that spans 43 million years from the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the Neogene Period 23.03 Mya. It is the beginning of the Cenozoic Era of the present Phanerozoic Eon. The earlier term Tertiary Period was used to define the span of time now covered by the Paleogene Period and subsequent Neogene Period; despite no longer being recognised as a formal stratigraphic term, 'Tertiary' is still widely found in earth science literature and remains in informal use. Paleogene is often abbreviated "Pg".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phanerozoic</span> Fourth and current eon of the geological timescale

The Phanerozoic Eon is the current geologic eon in the geologic time scale, and the one during which abundant animal and plant life has existed. It covers 538.8 million years to the present, and it began with the Cambrian Period, when animals first developed hard shells preserved in the fossil record. The time before the Phanerozoic, called the Precambrian, is now divided into the Hadean, Archaean and Proterozoic eons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Multituberculata</span> Extinct order of mammals

Multituberculata is an extinct order of rodent-like mammals with a fossil record spanning over 130 million years. They first appeared in the Middle Jurassic, and reached a peak diversity during the Late Cretaceous and Paleocene. They eventually declined from the mid Paleocene onwards, disappearing from the known fossil record in the late Eocene. They are the most diverse order of Mesozoic mammals with more than 200 species known, ranging from mouse-sized to beaver-sized. These species occupied a diversity of ecological niches, ranging from burrow-dwelling to squirrel-like arborealism to jerboa-like hoppers. Multituberculates are usually placed as crown mammals outside either of the two main groups of living mammals—Theria, including placentals and marsupials, and Monotremata—but usually as closer to Theria than to monotremes. They are considered to be closely related to Euharamiyida and Gondwanatheria as part of Allotheria.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Placentalia</span> Infraclass of mammals in the clade Eutheria

Placental mammals are one of the three extant subdivisions of the class Mammalia, the other two being Monotremata and Marsupialia. Placentalia contains the vast majority of extant mammals, which are partly distinguished from monotremes and marsupials in that the fetus is carried in the uterus of its mother to a relatively late stage of development. The name is something of a misnomer considering that marsupials also nourish their fetuses via a placenta, though for a relatively briefer period, giving birth to less developed young which are then nurtured for a period inside the mother's pouch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metatheria</span> Clade of marsupials and close relatives

Metatheria is a mammalian clade that includes all mammals more closely related to marsupials than to placentals. First proposed by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1880, it is a more inclusive group than the marsupials; it contains all marsupials as well as many extinct non-marsupial relatives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Polar region of the Cretaceous</span> Animals that lived below the Antarctic circle in the Cretaceous

The South Polar region of the Cretaceous comprised the continent of East Gondwana–modern day Australia and Antarctica–a product of the break-up of Gondwana in the Cretaceous Period. The southern region, during this time, was much warmer than it is today, ranging from perhaps 4–8 °C (39–46 °F) in the latest Cretaceous Maastrichtian in what is now southeastern Australia. This prevented permanent ice sheets from developing and fostered polar forests, which were largely dominated by conifers, cycads, and ferns, and relied on a temperate climate and heavy rainfall. Major fossil-bearing geological formations that record this area are: the Santa Marta and Sobral Formations of Seymour Island off the Antarctic Peninsula; the Snow Hill Island, Lopez de Bertodano, and the Hidden Lake Formations on James Ross Island also off the Antarctic Peninsula; and the Eumeralla and Wonthaggi Formations in Australia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maastrichtian</span> Sixth and last age of the Late Cretaceous

The Maastrichtian is, in the ICS geologic timescale, the latest age of the Late Cretaceous Epoch or Upper Cretaceous Series, the Cretaceous Period or System, and of the Mesozoic Era or Erathem. It spanned the interval from 72.1 to 66 million years ago. The Maastrichtian was preceded by the Campanian and succeeded by the Danian.

The Danian is the oldest age or lowest stage of the Paleocene Epoch or Series, of the Paleogene Period or System, and of the Cenozoic Era or Erathem. The beginning of the Danian is at the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 Ma. The age ended 61.6 Ma, being followed by the Selandian.

<i>Protungulatum</i>

Protungulatum is a extinct genus of pan-euungulate mammals within extinct family Protungulatidae, and also one of the earliest known placental mammals in the fossil record, that lived in North America from the Late Cretaceous to early Paleocene.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fort Union Formation</span>

The Fort Union Formation is a geologic unit containing sandstones, shales, and coal beds in Wyoming, Montana, and parts of adjacent states. In the Powder River Basin, it contains important economic deposits of coal, uranium, and coalbed methane.

Deltatheroida is an extinct group of basal metatherians that were distantly related to modern marsupials. The majority of known members of the group lived in the Cretaceous; one species, Gurbanodelta kara, is known from the late Paleocene (Gashatan) of China. Their fossils are restricted to Central Asia and North America. This order can be defined as all metatherians closer to Deltatheridium than to Marsupialia.

The Paleocene, or Palaeocene, is a geological epoch that lasted from about 66 to 56 million years ago (mya). It is the first epoch of the Paleogene Period in the modern Cenozoic Era. The name is a combination of the Ancient Greek παλαιός palaiós meaning "old" and the Eocene Epoch, translating to "the old part of the Eocene".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nacimiento Formation</span> A geologic formation in New Mexico

The Nacimiento Formation is a sedimentary rock formation found in the San Juan Basin of western New Mexico. It has an age of 61 to 65.7 million years, corresponding to the early and middle Paleocene. The formation has yielded an abundance of fossils from shortly after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that provide clues to the recovery and diversification of mammals following the extinction event.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ojo Alamo Formation</span>

The Ojo Alamo Formation is a geologic formation in New Mexico spanning the Mesozoic/Cenozoic boundary. Non-avian dinosaur fossils have controversially been identified in beds of this formation dating from after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, but these have been explained as either misidentification of the beds in question or as reworked fossils, fossils eroded from older beds and redeposited in the younger beds.

<i>Acheroraptor</i> Dromaeosaurid dinosaur genus from the Late Cretaceous

Acheroraptor is an extinct genus of dromaeosaurid theropod dinosaur known from the latest Maastrichtian Hell Creek Formation of Montana, United States. It contains a single species, Acheroraptor temertyorum. A. temertyorum is one of the two geologically youngest known species of dromaeosaurids, the other being Dakotaraptor, which is also known from Hell Creek. A basal cousin of Velociraptor, Acheroraptor is known from upper and lower jaw material.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event</span> Sudden mass extinction event about 66 million years ago caused by the impact of a massive asteroid

The Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event was a sudden mass extinction of three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth, approximately 66 million years ago. With the exception of some ectothermic species such as sea turtles and crocodilians, no tetrapods weighing more than 25 kilograms survived. It marked the end of the Cretaceous Period, and with it the Mesozoic era, while heralding the beginning of the Cenozoic era, which continues to this day.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Insular India</span> Isolated land mass which became the Indian subcontinent

The term Insular India refers to the isolated landmass which became the Indian subcontinent. Across the latter stages of the Cretaceous and most of the Paleocene, following the breakup of Gondwana, the Indian subcontinent remained an isolated landmass as the Indian Plate drifted across the Tethys Ocean, forming the Indian Ocean. The process of India's separation from Madagascar first began 88 million years ago, but complete isolation only occurred towards the end of the Maastrichtian, a process that has been suggested to be the creation of the Deccan Traps. Soon after, the land mass moved northward rather quickly, until contact with Asia was established 55 million years ago. Even then, both landmasses did not become fully united until around 35 million years ago, and periods of isolation occurred as recently as 24 million years ago.

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