Mecistotrachelos, the Walking Stick “Rib” Glider

Among the Permo/Triassic so-called “rib” gliders is an oddball with a walking-stick sort of torso with fused ribs no wider than its centra. The oddball is Mecistotrachelos from the Late Triassic and it was a sister to Coelurosauravus of the Late Permian.


Figure 1. Mecistotrachelos, the walking stick "rib" glider in lateral view except for the dorsal series and pseudoribs, which are seen in dorsal view. pseudoribs folded above, and extended below. The tail length is unknown.

Mecistotrachelos apeoros (Fraser et al. 2007) Late Triassic ~210 mya, demonstrates variety in later derived clade members with fewer dorsal vertebrae and fewer pseudoribs. The body was extremely slender, almost stick-like, with hyper-elongated cervicals and greatly reduced ribs fused to each centrum. The limbs were more gracile and the tail length is unknown. The fibula was fused or closely adhered to the tibia.

The long neck would have made Mecistotrachelos an unstable glider according to Fraser (2007). Coelurosauravus had a long neck and a larger skull. Were the dermal struts deployed for gliding? For display? Or both? Like other kuehneosaurs, Mecistotrachelos had small teeth and was likely an insectivore. Fraser (2007) wondered if his find was an archosauromorph. It is not. Here Mecistotrachelos nested with Coelurosauravus among the lepidsauromorpha, within the lepidosauriformes.

Not Like Draco the Extant Glider
Fraser (2007) reported, “The new form is characterized by the presence of extremely elongate thoracolumbar ribs that presumably supported a gliding membrane in life.” Fraser (2007) notes kuehneosaurs had “ribs forming hinge joints with the markedly elongate transverse processes on the dorsal vertebrae.” This is wrong. No Mecistotrachelos sister taxa had elongated transverse processes. The apparent transverse processes ARE the ribs, fused to the vertebrae, derived from the condition seen in the short ribs of Coelurosauravus (Fig. 2). The pseudoribs were actually elongated dermal ossicles described as “bundles of rodlike neomorph ossifications,” by Fraser (2007) quoting Frey et al. (1997). By contrast, in Draco the gliding struts are indeed elongated dorsal ribs.

The Triassic gliders and their non-gliding precursors.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. The Triassic gliders and their non-gliding precursors.

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.

Fraser NC, Olsen PE, Dooley AC Jr and Ryan TR 2007. A new gliding tetrapod (Diapsida: ?Archosauromorpha) from the Upper Triassic (Carnian) of Virginia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27 (2): 261–265.

Frey E, Sues H-D and Munk W 1997. Gliding Mechanism in the Late Permian Reptile Coelurosauravus. Science Vol. 275. no. 5305, pp. 1450 – 1452
DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5305.1450

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