Today’s Post Introduces the Thalattosauria.
Rarely, if ever have the thalattosauria been portrayed or illustrated as a clade. Thalattosaurs are not the most popular extinct reptiles. They’re often overlooked in cladistic analyses. Some thalattosaurs (I’m thinking of Vancleavea and Helveticosaurus at the moment) have been wrongly considered members of other clades. Wumengosaurus was considered an aberrant sauropterygian. Here I’ll attempt to remedy that situation with a single image of all the thalattosaurs (and their ancestors) to scale currently listed in reptileevolution.com and a short description of each taxon.
Despite its many unique traits, Xinpusaurus nested at the base of the Thalattosauria, close to the Ichythosauria. With fins rather than feet and a long, essentially toothless, sword-like rostrum, Xinpusaurus is really off in a clade all by itself. However to move it into the Ichthyosauria takes at least 14 extra steps.
More on the main line of thalattosaur evolution (without transforming its feet into flippers), Askeptosaurus was a larger version of Wumengosaurus with a longer temporal region, more gracile dorsal ribs and relatively shorter limbs. Two clades arose from this taxon.
The Short-Faced Thalattosaurs
Miodentosaurus, Eusaurosphargis, Helveticosaurus and Vancleavea were the short-faced thalattosaurs. They encompass a wide gamut of morphologies with distinct tooth patterns, vertebral counts and overall sizes. Miodentosaurus lost most of its teeth and became the largest thalattosaur by enlarging the post-crania without enlarging the skull. Eusaurophargis had an upturned jawline, short teeth, a wide, low body and fewer but longer dorsal vertebrae. Helveticosaurus had huge teeth, some so long and closely packed that they must have strained seawater. Vancleavea had a carnivorous dentition, was armored with bony scutes and had a deep tail ideal for sculling.
The Long(er)-Faced Thalattosaurs
Endennasaurus, Clarazia and Thalattosaurus were the long-faced thalattosaurs. Endennasaurus was much smaller than Askeptosaurus and lost its teeth. Clarazia had a shorter rostrum that extended beyond the mandibles; short, blunt teeth and a shorter neck. Thalattosaurus had sharp teeth and blunt teeth and a smaller postorbital region.
Learn more about thalattosaurs and check out the references at reptileevolution.com.
As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.
Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.
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