The Mesozoic Era is one of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic eon. The division of time into eras dates back to Giovanni Arduino, in the 18th century, although his original name for the era now called the 'Mesozoic' was 'Secondary' (making the modern era the 'Tertiary'). Lying between the Paleozoic and the Cenozoic, Mesozoic means 'middle animals', derived from Greek prefix meso-/μεσο- for 'between' and zoon/ζωον meaning animal or 'living being'. It is often called the 'Age of the Reptiles', after the dominant fauna of the era.
The Mesozoic was a time of tectonic, climatic and evolutionary activity. The continents gradually shifted from a state of connectedness into their present configuration; the drifting provided for speciation and other important evolutionary developments. The climate was exceptionally warm throughout the period, also playing an important role in the evolution and diversification of new animal species. By the end of the era, the basis of modern life was in place.
Following the Paleozoic, the Mesozoic extended roughly 180 million years: from 251 million years ago (Mya) to when the Cenozoic era began 65 Mya. This time frame is separated into three geologic periods. From oldest to youngest:
- Triassic (251.0 Mya to 199.6 Mya)
- Jurassic (199.6 Mya to 145.5 Mya)
- Cretaceous (145.5 Mya to 65.5 Mya)
The lower (Triassic) boundary is set by the Permian-Triassic extinction event, during which approximately 90% to 96% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates became extinct. It is also known as the "Great Dying" because it is considered the largest mass extinction in the Earth's history. The upper (Cretaceous) boundary is set at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction event, which may have been caused by the impactor that created Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatán Peninsula. Approximately 50% of all genera became extinct, including all of the non-avian dinosaurs.