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Gorgons. For Real

Paleontologists in South Africa recently discovered the first complete skeleton of a pre-dinosaur creature called Gorgonopsid, or "Gorgon" for short.

According to Greek mythology, one look at the snake-haired gorgon Medusa would turn the unfortunate viewer to stone. Several years ago, paleontologists at a fossil dig in South Africa turned stone into a gorgon when they discovered the first complete skeleton of a pre-dinosaur creature called Gorgonopsid, or “Gorgon” for short.

Although they may not have turned their enemies to stone, real-life gorgons were by all accounts fierce predators. Looking something like a cross between a lion and a monitor lizard, gorgons had dog-like heads with huge canine teeth used to attack and devour their prey. Their lizard-like bodies could be as long as ten feet and were probably covered by scales rather than hair or fur.

Scientists are still not certain if gorgons were more like mammals or reptiles. Like reptiles, they had eyes on the sides of their head. The complete skeleton will help determine if their legs were splayed away from the body like a crocodile, or if their legs were located more directly under the body, like mammals.

Gorgons lived roughly 250 million years ago and were members of the Theraspid family, a group of animals that became extinct at the end of the Permian period. Their descendants lived on, however, giving rise to all mammals. So, in a sense, gorgons are still with us today as part of our evolutionary family tree.

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