The Triassic is a geologic period and system that extends from about 250 to 200 Ma (252.2 ± 0.5 to 201.3 ± 0.2 million years ago). It is the first period of the Mesozoic Era, and lies between the Permian and Jurassic periods. Both the start and end of the period are marked by major extinction events. The Triassic was named in 1834 by Friedrich von Alberti, after the three distinct rock layers (tri meaning "three") that are found throughout Germany and northwestern Europe—red beds, capped by chalk, followed by black shales—called the "Trias."
The Triassic began in the wake of the Permian–Triassic extinction event, which left the Earth's biosphere impoverished; it would take well into the middle of the period for life to recover its former diversity. Therapsids and archosaurs were the chief terrestrial vertebrates during this time. A specialized subgroup of archosaurs, dinosaurs, first appeared in the Late Triassic but did not become dominant until the succeeding Jurassic. The first true mammals, themselves a specialized subgroup of Therapsids also evolved during this period, as well as the first flying vertebrates, the pterosaurs, who like the dinosaurs were a specialized subgroup of archosaurs. The vast supercontinent of Pangaea existed until the mid-Triassic, after which it began to gradually rift into two separate landmasses, Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south. The global climate during the Triassic was mostly hot and dry, with deserts spanning much of Pangaea's interior. However, the climate shifted and became more humid as Pangaea began to drift apart. The end of the period was marked by yet another major mass extinction, wiping out many groups and allowing dinosaurs to assume dominance in the Jurassic.
The Triassic is usually separated into Early, Middle, and Late Triassic Epochs, and the corresponding rocks are referred to as Lower, Middle, or Upper Triassic. The faunal stages from the youngest to oldest are:
During the Triassic, almost all the Earth's land mass was concentrated into a single supercontinent centered more or less on the equator, called Pangaea ("all the land"). From the east a vast gulf entered Pangaea, the Tethys sea. It opened farther westward in the mid-Triassic, at the expense of the shrinking Paleo-Tethys Ocean, an ocean that existed during the Paleozoic. The remaining shores were surrounded by the world-ocean known as Panthalassa ("all the sea"). All the deep-ocean sediments laid down during the Triassic have disappeared through subduction of oceanic plates; thus, very little is known of the Triassic open ocean. The supercontinent Pangaea was rifting during the Triassic—especially late in the period—but had not yet separated. The first nonmarine sediments in the rift that marks the initial break-up of Pangaea—which separated New Jersey from Morocco—are of Late Triassic age; in the U.S., these thick sediments comprise the Newark Group. Because of the limited shoreline of one super-continental mass, Triassic marine deposits are globally relatively rare, despite their prominence in Western Europe, where the Triassic was first studied. In North America, for example, marine deposits are limited to a few exposures in the west. Thus Triassic stratigraphy is mostly based on organisms living in lagoons and hypersaline environments, such as Estheria crustaceans.