Therocephalia

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Therocephalia
Temporal range: Middle Permian to Middle Triassic
Ictidosuchoides intermedium, Wrexham Museum.JPG
Skull of a therocephalian in the Wrexham Museum, Wales
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Synapsida
Order: Therapsida
(unranked): Theriodontia
Infraorder: Theriocephalia

Therocephalians ('beast-heads') are an extinct group of theriodonts. They lived from the middle Permian into the Triassic 265—245 million years ago, about 20 million years.

The therocephalians are named after their large skulls. Their skulls, with the structure of their teeth, suggest that they were successful carnivores.

Like other non-mammalian therapsids, therocephalians are sometimes described as mammal-like reptiles. In fact Therocephalia is the group most closely related to the cynodonts, which gave rise to the mammals.

This relationship shows in a variety of anatomical features, possibly including whiskers and hair. There remain many unanswered questions about the phylogeny, anatomy, and physiology of therocephalians.

The fossils of therocephalians are numerous in the Karoo of South Africa, but have also been found in Russia, China, and Antarctica.

Early therocephalian fossils discovered in Middle Permian deposits of South Africa support a Gondwanan origin for the group, which seems to have spread quickly throughout the world. Although almost every therocephalian lineage ended during the great Permian–Triassic extinction event, a few representatives of the subgroup (called Eutherocephalia) survived into the early Triassic and continued to diversify.

However, the last therocephalians became extinct by the early middle Triassic. The reasons for their extinction are not known.