Reptiles first evolved from amphibians about 250 million years ago in the Carboniferous period and were dominant in the world's fauna during the Mesozoic era, sometimes called the Age of Reptiles. The dinosaurs, the marine Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus, and the flying pterosaurs reached the peak of their development and distribution in the later part of this era (late Cretaceous period). Mammallike reptiles appeared very early in reptilian history and by the Triassic period had given rise to mammals. Bird ancestors arose from precursors of the dinosaurs; the first known birds lived in the Jurassic. The only reptiles that survived into the Cenozoic era belonged to the presently living orders. The approximately 6,000 living reptile species represent a very small fraction of this once vast class.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.