The BES SC 111 specimen of Macrocnemus – DGS helps reconstruct it

Previously considered (Renesto S and Avanzini M 2002) a juvenile due to its size, the BES SC 111 specimen of Macrocnemus (Fig. 1) sheds light on the origin of such diverse lineages as the Tanystropheidae (Langobardisaurus, Fig. 2) and the Fenestrasauria (Cosesaurus through the Pterosauria, Fig. 2). It also nests at the base of other Macrocnemus specimens including the oddly bizarre, Dinocephalosaurus (Fig. 3).

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. Stages in the DGS tracing and reconstruction of the the Macrocnemus BES SC 111 skull. I did not realize the the palatal bones were so visible. There's a palatine and ectopterygoid over the nasal and frontal, for instance. So earlier mistakes were made that are corrected here. The right mandible is traced here only along its ventral rim.

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. Stages in the DGS tracing and reconstruction of the the Macrocnemus BES SC 111 skull. I did not realize the the palatal bones were so visible. There’s a palatine and ectopterygoid over the nasal and frontal, for instance. So earlier mistakes were made that are corrected here. The right mandible is traced here only along its ventral rim.

Derived from
an early Triassic sister to Huehuecuetzpalli and/or Jesairosaurus, the BES SC 111 specimen seems to have at least a depression in the dorsal maxilla that will ultimately become an antorbital fenestra in the Fenestrasauria. Note the resemblance of this skull to that of Cosesaurus and Langobardisaurus (Fig. 2). They all share a retracted naris, large orbit, bent quadrate, short postorbital region and relatively short teeth.

The reduction of pedal digit 5 in all known Macrocnemus specimens demonstrates the BES SC 111 nests at the base of the Macrocnemus lineage. An unknown sister without this reduction would be basal to Langobardisaurus and the Fenestrasauria.

Figure 2. Macrocnemus BES SC 111 compared to sister taxa, Langobardisaurus, Cosesaurus and the basal pterosaur, MPUM 6009. Preserved loose, the orientation of the ectopterygoids could go either way, with the narrow tip contacting the maxilla instead, as in Dinocephalosaurus (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Macrocnemus BES SC 111 compared to sister taxa, Langobardisaurus, Cosesaurus and the basal pterosaur, MPUM 6009. 

Figure 3. Dinocephalosaurus to scale with the largest Macrocnemus specimen and the smaller ones from figure 2.

Figure 3. Dinocephalosaurus to scale with a large Macrocnemus specimen, T4822, and the smaller ones from figure 2.

The take-away from this is: large odd reptiles sometimes have their origin in not-so-large, not-so-odd reptiles like the BES SC 111 specimen. At the same time, small odd reptiles may have the same origin. Make sure you add the plain, old reptiles to your cladograms. That’s where the spectacular taxa have their origin.

References
Li C, Zhao L-J and Wang L-T 2007A new species of Macrocnemus (Reptilia: Protorosauria) from the Middle Triassic of southwestern China and its palaeogeographical implication. Science in China D, Earth Sciences 50(11)1601-1605.
Nopcsa F 1931. Macrocnemus nicht Macrochemus. Centralblatt fur Mineralogie. Geologic und Palaeontologie; Stuttgart. 1931 Abt B 655–656.
Peyer B 1937. Die Triasfauna der Tessiner Kalkalpen XII. Macrocnemus bassanii Nopcsa. Abhandlung der Schweizerische Palaontologische Geologischen Gesellschaft pp. 1-140.
Renesto S and Avanzini M 2002. Skin remains in a juvenile Macrocnemus bassanii Nopsca (Reptilia, Prolacertiformes) from the Middle Triassic of Northern Italy. Jahrbuch Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlung 224(1):31-48.
Romer AS 1970. Unorthodoxies in Reptilian Phylogeny. Evolution 25:103-112.

wiki/Macrocnemus

‘Aerodactylus’ nests with Pterodactylus antiquus. It’s not a new genus.

A recent online paper in PLOS by Vidovic and Martill (2014) proposed that the BSP AS V 29a/b specimen (n15 in the Wellnhofer 1970 catalog, Figs. 1-5) formerly attributed to Pterodactylus scolopaciceps (Meyer 1860) was actually more closely related to Cycnorhamphus. They gave it a new name, “Aerodactylus.

I know this sounds technical. I’ll make it simple with pictures and links.

From their abstract:
A cladistic analysis demonstrates that Aerodactylus is distinct from Pterodactylus, but close to Cycnorhamphus Seeley, 1870, Ardeadactylus Bennett, 2013a and Aurorazhdarcho Frey, Meyer and Tischlinger, 2011, consequently we erect the inclusive taxon Aurorazhdarchidae for their reception.

BSP AV S 29a/b, formerly attributed to Pterodactylus, Vidovic and Martill rename Aerodactylus. Scale bar = 2cm.

Figure 1. BSP AV S 29a/b, formerly attributed to Pterodactylus, Vidovic and Martill rename Aerodactylus. Scale bar = 2cm. Upper image distorted to match lower image. Looks like it is swimming or walking. 

The BSP specimen is gorgeous and complete.
It looks like quadrupedal in situ (Fig. 1). I’m happy to take this opportunity to finally create a reconstruction (Fig. 5) and add it to the large pterosaur tree (not updated yet), especially considering the current drama brought on by this change of genus.

Unfortunately,
my results do not support the Vidovic and Martill (2014) results. In the large pterosaur tree BSP AS V 29a/b is recovered as a sister to the original pterosaur, the first one ever described, Pterodactylus antiquus (Figs. 3, 4).

The authors also have the traditional mindset, falsified several times recently.
From their abstract:
“The majority of pterosaur species from the Solnhofen Limestone, including P. scolopaciceps are represented by juveniles. Consequently, specimens can appear remarkably similar due to juvenile characteristics detracting from taxonomic differences that are exaggerated in later ontogeny.”

The authors fail to recognize the several juveniles that are not morphologically different than adults here, here, here and here, along with the three embryos that are not different from adults here, here and here.

Okay, so let’s take a look at the contenders.
Vidovic and Martill (2014) nested BSP AS V 29 a/b with the their purported cycnorhampid Gladocephaloideus (Fig. 2, and why was it not mentioned in the abstract?)

Here three pterosaurs considered sisters by Vidovic and Martill 2014 are shown to scale. In the large pterosaur tree, these taxa do NOT nest together. It is clear to see they are not closely related.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. Here three pterosaurs considered sisters by Vidovic and Martill 2014 are shown to scale. In the large pterosaur tree, these taxa do NOT nest together. It is clear to see they are not closely related. These specimens show variety, not similarity.

In Evolution
there is supposed to be a gradual change from one taxon to another. Sister taxa should share a long list of traits. Here (Fig. 2) they don’t.

Here are the competing contenders
It turns out that this Pterodactylus, BSP AS V 29a/b, really IS a Pterodactylus. It shares many more traits with its sisters (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Click to enlarge. The large pterosaur tree nests these three taxa together. So this Pterodactylus really is a Pterodactylus.

Figure 3. Click to enlarge. The large pterosaur tree nests these three taxa together. So this Pterodactylus really is a Pterodactylus, just a distinct species. These specimens show similarity, with a little variety.

What a mess!
And why? What was it about this very run-of-the-mill pterosaur made anyone think it was anything but what it is, a Pterodactylus.

Figure 4. Subset of the large pterosaur tree, with the BSP specimen added.

Figure 4. Subset of the large pterosaur tree, with the BSP AS V 29a/b specimen added.

Re: Gladocephaloides, Ardeadactylus and Aurorazhdarcho
In the large pterosaur tree, Gladocephaloideus nests with Gegepterus within the Ctenochasmatoidea.

Ardeadactylus nests with Huanhepterus and other proto-azhdarchids. Pterodactylus longicollum is not related, but nests on the other side of the Pterodactylus antiquus holotype (Fig. 4). Yes, this genus generally gets bigger as members become more derived.

Aurorazhdarcho nests with Eoazhdarcho and Eopteranodon at the base of Nyctosaurus + Pteranodon.

So none of these taxa are really related to one another.

Getting back to the juvenile problem
Vidovic and Martill (2014) considered the SMF R 4072 specimen to be a juvenile Pterodactylus. However in phylogenetic analysis, it nests at the base of Germanodactylus. The fear of adding tiny Solnhofen specimens to phylogenetic analysis is unwarranted. A tree that includes them has been on the web for three years. And juvenile pterosaurs identical to parents are well known, but ignored.

The authors had direct access to the specimens and I did not. 
I hope you see that direct access to the specimens is no guarantee of validity. Conversely, lack of direct access to the specimens is no hinderance to critical observation.

The authors thanked, Chris Bennett (Fort Hayes), David Hone (London), and Dino Frey (Karlsruhe) ‘for the useful comments made during the project.’ And this is why I have trouble getting pterosaur papers published.

I hope now you can appreciate when I say the world of pterosaur study is like a funhouse mirror where everything is distorted and, in this case at worst, makes no sense, yet is supported by professional workers.

And let’s leave on a good note

Figure 5. Pterodactylus specimen BSP AS V 29a/b reconstructed. Soft tissue shows where the naris opens.

Figure 5. Pterodactylus specimen BSP AS V 29a/b reconstructed. Soft tissue shows where the naris opens. Presumeably the small hole at the front of the antorbital fenestra. But there is a larger hole further back! This specimen has the usual wingtip claw, fifth toe claw and fifth manual digit. It may also have a few more ribs than usual, which might go along with the smaller pelvis. 

BSP AS V 29 a/b is a premiere specimen.
It looked so much like other Pterodactylus ()Fig. 3) that I ignored it until now. A bit of soft tissue fills most of the antorbital fenestra leaving a small hole up front (the naris?) and a larger hole further back. The sternum is smaller relative to the humerus than in other Pterodactylus specimens. The twin teeth at the mandible tips are easy to see. These fuse to become one sharp tooth in germanodactylids and their descendants. There is nothing about this specimen that says it is anything but a Pterodactylus.

After this paper, Hermann von Meyer must be rolling over in his grave.

References
Vidovic SU and Martill DM 2014. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps Meyer, 1860 (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from the Upper Jurassic of Bavaria, Germany: The Problem of Cryptic Pterosaur Taxa in Early Ontogeny. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110646. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110646

 

New clade of enigmatic early archosaurs? No.

Updated one day after publication. The taxa come from the Supp. Data, most not shown in the greatly simplified chronological cladogram.

Recently, Butler et al. (2014)
recovered a “new clade of enigmatic early archosaurs” comprised of Yonghesuchus, Gracilisuchus and Turfanosuchus.

Unfortunately they added the unrelated Mesosuchus (lepidosaur), Vancleavea (thalattosaur) and two pterosaurs (lepidosaurs).

And they did not add the true sisters of Gracilisuchus (Pseudhesperosuchus, Decuriasuchus, Lewisuchus, Saltopus, the SMNS 12591 specimen and Scleromochlus).

Red Flags
In the Butler et al. (2014) tree the following purported sister taxa are all “odd bedfellows” that do not look like one another.

  1. Prolacerta is derived from Mesosuchus (and presumably the rhynchosaurs)
  2. Euparkeria is derived from Tropidosuchus and Chanaresuchus.
  3. Tropidosuchus and Chanaresuchus are derived from Vancleavea.
  4. Vancleavea is derived from Erythrosuchus.
  5. Pterosaurs are derived from parasuchians!!!!!!
  6. Lagerpeton is derived from pterosaurs.
  7. Ornithosuchia is derived from Lewisuchus.
  8. Theropoda is derived from Ornithischia.
  9. Ornithosuchia is a sister to Pterosauria, also derived from Parasuchia.
  10. Revueltosaurus is a sister to the Aetosauria and derived from Ornithosuchia
  11. The new Gracilisuchus clade is derived from Revueltosaurus.
  12. Poposaurus and the poposaurs are derived from Qianosuchus, Xilosuchus and Arizonasaurus
  13. Prestosuchus and the Rauisuchidae is derived from Ticinosuchus.
  14. Hesperosuchus and the Crocodylomorpha are derived from Rauisuchidae.

Say it ain’t so!
As you can see, many of these relationships don’t make sense. Sister taxa share very few traits with one another (pterosauria and parasuchia, is the worst such example). Many relationships are upside down with basal taxa, like theropods, derived from derived taxa, like ornithischia. (M. Mortimer also had this problem a few years ago).

What is needed is a large reptile tree in which basal taxa are basal to derived taxa and all sisters look alike (share most traits). In the large reptile tree, sister taxa look quite a bit like one another. The authors should have cast a critical eye on these results, which are very similar to those of Nesbitt (2011), who also recovered many strange bedfellows.

If I had proposed that pterosaurs arose from parasuchians,
the ridicule would be endless and justified, as it is here. Taxon exclusion seems to be the culprit again, along with the tradition of using previously published matrices, even those riddled with Red Flags and strange bedfellows.

In the large reptile tree, Gracilisuchus nests with the SMNS 12591 specimen, Saltopus and Scleromochlus at the base of the Archosauria. Turfanosuchus nests at the base of the Poposauridae, between Decuriasuchus and the base of the Archosauria, not far from GracilisuchusYonghesuchus, nests between Dromicosuchus and Protosuchus.

And, because this is Science, you can repeat these experiments to see for yourself which taxa share more traits — that make sense.

References
Butler et al. 2014. New clade of enigmatic early archosaurs yields insights into early  pseudosuchian phylogeny and the biogeography of the archosaur radiation. BMC Evolutionary Biology  14:128. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-128
Nesbitt SJ 2011. The early evolution of archosaurs: relationships and the origin of major clades. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 352: 292 pp.

The Proterosuchus holotype – restoration and imagination

Several skulls and skeletons have been attributed to Proterosuchus, the basalmost archosauriform. Unfortunately the holotype is the worst of the lot.

Figure 1. Top and bottom images from Ezcurra et al. 2014. Middle with missing pieces imagined and restored based on other specimens.

Figure 1. Top and bottom images of Proterosuchus holotype from Ezcurra and Butler 2014. Middle with missing pieces imagined and restored based on other specimens. As you can see, the bones and impressions of bones are very difficult to see. Colorizing the bones, as I do in DGS, is an amazing way to present what those two observed in the fossil.

A recent paper by Ezcurra and Butler 2014 explores the many skulls of Proterosuchus.

From the abstract
“Based upon a comprehensive re-examination of all known specimens, as well as examination of other proterosuchid taxa in collections worldwide, we conclude that the holotype of Proterosuchus fergusi (Fig. 1) is undiagnostic… As a result, we recognize a minimum of four archosauriform species following the Permo-Triassic mass extinction in South Africa. Our results suggest a greater species richness of earliest Triassic archosauriforms than previously appreciated, but that archosauriform morphological disparity remained low and did not expand until the late Early Triassic – early Mid-Triassic.”

This skull, IMHO, cannot be used in phylogenetic analysis, and it hasn’t been used in that way. However, add a few other taxa identified by museum numbers and you’re good to go.

References
Broom R. 1903. On a new reptile (Proterosuchus fergusi) from the Karroo beds of Tarkastad, South Africa. Annals of the South African Museum 4: 159–164.
Ezcurra, MD and Butler RJ. 2014. Taxonomy of the proterosuchid archosauriforms (Diapsida: Archosauromorpha) from the earliest Triassic of South Africa, and implications for the early archosauriform radiation. Palaeontology. (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1111/pala.12130 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pala.12130/abstract
Ezcurra MD, Butler RJ and Gower D 2013. ‘Proterosuchia’: the orign and early history of Archosauriformes. Pp. 9–33 in S. J. Nesbitt, J. B. Desojo, R. B. Irmis (eds) Anatomy, Phylogeny and Palaeobiology of Early Archosaurs and Their Kin. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 379.
Welman J 1998. The taxonomy of South African proterosuchids (Reptilia, Archosauromorpha). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 18:340–347.
Welman J and Flemming  AF 1993. Statistical analysis of the skulls of Triassic proterosuchids (Reptilia, Archosauromorpha) from South Africa. Palaeontologia africana 30:113–123.

wiki/Proterosuchus

 

A closer look at Sikannisuchus huskyi

Earlier we looked at the skull roof of Sikannisuchus. Unfortunately, I ignored those long mandible bits and pieces. These give us more clues to restore the missing parts in lateral view (Fig. 1).

Sikannisuhus huskyi restored on must a view bits and pieces.

Sikannisuhus huskyi restored on must a view bits and pieces. Nesting with Postosuchus provides clues to the shapes of the missing parts. That’s a nice long skull. Must have been a BIG reptile.

If I made any errors, or the clues point in another direction, let me know.

References
Nicholls EL, Brinkman DB and Wu K-C 1998. A new archosaur from the Upper Triassic
Pardonet Formation of British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Earth Science 35: 1134–1142.

A closer look at Jesairosaurus

Earlier we looked at Jesairosaurus (Jalil 1991) and the origin of the Drepanosauridae. Today we’ll take a closer look at Jesairosaurus.

Figure 1. The ZAR 206 specimen of Jesairosaurus, nesting between Huehuecuetzpalli and the Drepanosauridae AND the Tanystropheidae.

Figure 1. The ZAR 206 specimen of Jesairosaurus, nesting between Huehuecuetzpalli and the Drepanosauridae AND the Tanystropheidae.

 

Jesairosaurus was originally considered a prolacertiform
Sure it has a long neck, but in phylogenetic analysis, it doesn’t nest with Prolacerta or Marlerisaurus, but after the basal lepidosaur Huehuecuetzpalli (described a year later) and prior to other long-necked taxa, including langobardisaurs and drepanosaurs. Note the dorsal nares and large orbit. There’s a very tall scapula here, a precursor to the tall stem in drepanosaurs. The specimen is broken up, but appears to have a tiny antorbital fenestra, a trait that has been argued about in drepanosaurs.

Distinct from most lepidosaurs,
Jesairosaurus has fairly large thecodont teeth, a trait retained by all successors, including tanystropheids and pterosaurs. Gastralia appear here for the first time in this lineage, lost in drepanosaurs, kept in langobardisaurs. The ventral pelvis isn’t fused, but the thyroid fenestra is gone.

Like most lepidosaurs,
the scapulocoracoid was fenestrated. And there’s a nice ossified sternum there.

Folks, not adding this taxon to phylogenetic analyses focused on any of the taxa mentioned above is big mistake. It’s time to clear out all the enigma taxa and nest theme where they belong.

On a side note…
As you know, I’m always attempting to improve the data here. Several months ago I mentioned to a detractor that most prior workers reported  forelimbs present in Sharovipteryx. Only Unwin et al. (2000) thought they were buried in the matrix. My detractor claimed the opposite, that I was the only one to see forelimbs. No word yet on this issue. Still waiting.

Another detractor claimed I had seen soft tissue on a Bavarian museum fossil pterosaur. When I asked which specimen, he refused to provide the number.

In a third case I asked to see a closeup of a pterosaur mandible tip that had been published. I wondered if the sharp tip might be a tooth, as it is in other sharp mandible pterosaurs. The offer was refused with the phrase, “trust us, it’s not there.” I replied “trust” is antithetical to Science. No reply and no closeup yet.

So, is it so hard to provide a museum number? A closeup of a photograph? Or a reply to a note on forelimbs? Should we trust other scientists? Or should we test and confirm or refute? There may be cooperation among other paleontologists. Or maybe they’re all very protective of their data. Evidently I also have a very bad reputation, and that may be the reason for the lack of cooperation. These things happen when paradigms are broken.

References
Jalil N-E 1997. A new prolacertiform diapsid from the Triassic of North Africa and the interrelationships of the Prolacertiformes. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 17(3), 506-525.
Unwin DM, Alifanov VR and Benton MJ 2000. Enigmatic small reptiles from the Middle-Late Triassic of Kyrgyzstan. In: Benton M.J., Shishkin M.A. & Unwin D.M. (Eds) The Age of Dinosaurs in Russia and Mongolia. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press: 177-186.

wiki/Prolacertiformes

 

 

When DNA analyses return untenable results

Sometimes DNA and RNA provide great insight into phylogenetic relationships.

Other times… not so much.

Ultimately molecule analyses have to be supported by morphological studies that enable us to see the gradual accumulation of traits in lineages. If we can’t see those gradual evolutionary changes, then we must assume there are agents in the DNA that are obfuscating relationships, rather than illuminating relationships.

Two cases in point:

Hedges & Poling (1999) argued that Sphenodon was more closely related to archosaurs than to squamates. This would require independent acquisition of a wide range of specialized features and takes no account of the fossil histories of the groups in question, according to Evans (2003).

Wiens et al., (2012) produced a molecule study of extant taxa that rearranged prior squamate trees, nesting Dibamus and gekkos at the base while nesting Anguimorpha and Iguania as derived sister clades. For those who don’t know Dibamus too well, it has no legs and a very odd skull morphology. In the large reptile tree it nests with other legless scincomorphs, with which it shares a long list of character traits.

Unfortunately these DNA studies, like ALL DNA studies, ignore fossil taxa.

But we need them.

On the other side of the coin recent work by Losos on extant anoles in the Carribbean seems to have turned up some interesting and viable results.

Not sure where to draw the line. Be careful out there.

References
Evans SE 2003. At the feet of the dinosaurs: the early history and radiation of lizards. Biological Reviews 78:513–551.
Hedges SB and Poling LL 1999. A molecular phylogeny of reptiles. Science 283, 998–1001.
Wiens JJ, et al. 2012. Resolving the phylogeny of lizards and snakes (Squamata) with extensive sampling of genes and species. Biology Letters. 2012 8, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0703.