Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Geologic Time The Story of a Changing Earth
Presented by the Department of Paleobiology.
The Paleocene
Epoch Overview
Terrestrial Life through the Paleocene
Life in the Paleocene Oceans
Climates and Shifting Continents
Lower jaw of Plesiadapis cookei
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Shark's tooth
Ptilodus montanus
Ectocion ralstonensis
Caenolambda pattersoni
Japanese scholar tree
Sycamore relative and dawn redwood
Insect damage on plant leaves
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Terrestrial Life through the Paleocene
With the demise of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, the stage was set for mammals and birds to become the dominant land vertebrates. Although Paleocene bird fossils are rare, mammals are well represented in Paleocene sediments. Insectivorans, early relatives of true primates (plesiadapiforms), carnivorans, creodonts, and primitive herbivores (such as condylarths and early uintatheres) inhabited the forests. The largest mammal, Pantolambda (a primitive plant eater), was about the size of a small pony. The multituberculates, small mammals with chisel-like front teeth that had evolved in the Mesozoic, remained common in the Paleocene; rodents appeared late in the Paleocene.

Although the majority of Cretaceous plant species did not survive into the Paleocene, ferns were very abundant for a brief period following the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact. Subsequently, flowering plants and conifers once again became more abundant during the early Paleocene. Paleocene swamp forests from middle latitudes to the shores of the Arctic Ocean were dominated by deciduous trees related to bald cypress. Drier-ground vegetation supported members of the tea, laurel, and birch families, among many others.

Through most of the Paleocene, fossil leaves show low amounts and few types of damage caused by herbivorous insects. This suggests that insect herbivores were slow to recover diversity and abundance following the end-Cretaceous extinction. The diversity of insect feeding marks on plants did not recover to Cretaceous levels until the late Paleocene.


Epoch Overview | Terrestrial Life through the Paleocene | Life in the Paleocene Oceans
Climates and Shifting Continents

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