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1670s, "chalky," from Latin cretaceus "chalk-like," from creta "chalk." As a geological period (with a capital C-), it was first used 1832. The extensive chalk beds of southeastern England were laid down during the Cretaceous.
The third and last period of the Mesozoic Era, from about 144 to 65 million years ago. During this time the supercontinent Pangaea continued to split up, with modern-day South America and Africa splitting apart, the Atlantic Ocean widening, and India disconnecting itself entirely from the other landmasses to which it was attached. Dinosaurs continued to be the dominant terrestrial animals, but many insect groups, modern mammals and birds, and the angiosperms (flowering plants) also first appeared. The Cretaceous Period ended with a mass extinction event in which about 75 percent of all species, including marine, freshwater, and terrestrial organisms, became extinct. See Chart at geologic time.