Today we add Atopodentatus (Cheng et al. 2014, early Middle Triassic, WIBM SPC V 1107, Figs. 1-4) with a highly specialized feeding adaptation resembling that of a right whale.
From the abstract:
“Its dentition is fence or comb-like and bears more than 175 pleurodont teeth in each ramus of the upper and lower jaws, tooth crown is needle-like distally and blade-shaped proximally; its rostrum strongly bends downward and the anterior end of its mandible expands both dorsally and ventrally to form a shovel-headed structure; and its ungual phalanges are hoof-shaped. The specializations of the jaws and dentition indicate that the reptile may have been adapted to a way of bottom-filter feeding in water. It is obvious that such delicate teeth are not strong enough to catch prey, but were probably used as a barrier to filter microorganisms or benthic invertebrates such as sea
worms. These were collected by the specialized jaws, which may have functioned as a shovel or pushdozer (the mandible) and a grasper or scratcher (the rostrum). Our preliminary analysis suggests that the new reptile might be more closely related to the Sauropterygia than to other marine reptiles.”
The most bizarre aspect of Atopodentatus is the anterior view of the rostrum. Unlike any other tetrapod, the premaxillae are medially split and filled with teeth that face one another. But these pseudo-jaws were immobile. These would have filtered sea water like the lateral needle-like teeth did.
Nice illustration here.
The second most bizarre aspect of Atopodentatus is the extreme bend in the maxilla. As the mandible closed the tip raked up the ventrally directed portion of the maxilla.
Originally Atopodentatus nested at the base of the Sauropterygia. In the large reptile tree Atopodentatus nests in roughly the same node, but between Claudiosaurus and the Saurosphargidae. It is the most basal taxon in the Enaliosauria to have elongated transverse processes. We’ll discuss other aspects of this bizarre aquatic reptile in future posts.