Unfortunately for the therapsids, their cousins the diapsids were also productively evolving, in their case into dinosaurs (among other things), which gradually proved too much for the therapsids. Unable to compete head to head with these aggressive new creatures, the therapsids by and large vanished from the record. A very few, however, evolved into small, furry, burrowing beings that bided their time for a very long while as little mammals. The biggest of them grew no larger than a house cat, and most were no bigger than mice. Eventually, this would prove their salvation, but they would have to wait nearly 150 million years for Megadynasty 3, the Age of Dinosaurs, to come to an abrupt end and make room for Megadynasty 4 and our own Age of Mammals.
Each of these massive transformations, as well as many smaller ones between and since, was dependent on that paradoxically important motor of progress: extinction. It is a curious fact that on Earth species death is, in the most literal sense, a way of life. No one knows how many species of organisms have existed since life began. Thirty billion is a commonly cited figure, but the number has been put as high as 4,000 billion. Whatever the actual total, 99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are no longer with us. "To a first approximation," as David Raup of the University of Chicago likes to say, "all species are extinct."