The Online Library of Knowledge

Early life

Carboniferous Period

Eryops, giant amphibians Eryops, giant amphibians The Carboniferous Period lasted from about 359 to 299 million years ago. Plants had spread across the world’s continents and had evolved into many different kinds, including massive, bark-covered trees. About 350 million years ago, the continents of Europe and North America were joined together and lay in the tropics. Hot, swampy jungles blanketed the lowlands. The growth of these forests took out massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, leaving a much higher level of oxygen. Lurking in the waters of the Carboniferous swamps were amphibians. There was a wide variety of species, including some as long as 6 metres (20 feet). Equipped with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, amphibians preyed on the abundant insects and fish. 


Coal swamps

Carboniferous coal swampCarboniferous coal swampThe continual cycle of growth and death of swampy vegetation produced thick layers of rotting matter that turned to peat, a dense, dark soil. Over millions of years, the thick beds of peat, overlain by sediments, were compressed, eventually becoming rock. This we know today as coal.
Giant dragonflyGiant dragonfly
Massive trees, including 30-metre high Lepidodendron, a kind of lycopod or club moss, and Calamites, a large horsetail, dominated the coal swamps of the Carboniferous period. Dragonflies the size of seagulls, giant cockroaches and 2.6-metre (8.5-foot) millipedes lived among the trees. Insects, spiders, crustaceans and other land invertebrates had all evolved from marine creatures millions of years earlier.

Carboniferous comes from the Latin words carbo, meaning "coal", and ferre "to carry" or "to bear". Many coal beds were formed across the world during the Carboniferous and are still mined for coal today.

© 2019 Q-files Ltd. All rights reserved. Switch to Mobile