A new YouTube video by David Attenborough does a great job of chronicling the Rise of Animals in two parts. Highly recommended.
Lots of great fossils are shown, many from China where basal chordates, basal vertebrates, basal birds, and basal mammals have all been found. The animals were also excellently animated.
Messel primates are featured, along with megafauna from the White River formation. Unfortunately various reptile clades were ignored. Perhaps that was due to the lack of a generally accepted amniote tree based on generic taxa, as portrayed here, and to a general theme leading toward humans, rather than snakes and turtles.
You can’t beat David Attenborough’s narration, which brings equal parts of authority and delight at every discovery and clade node.
Attenborough also strings together a gradually accumulating list of hominid traits, starting with basal chordates, echoing the pattern and theme of the 1991 book, From the Beginning, available free online as a PDF file here.
…and updated here at ReptileEvolution.com.
A few missed opportunities here. There is no reason to restrict basal birds like Microraptor to a a gliding mode when the bones indicate that flapping was practiced, both on the ground and in the air.
We’re not sure if basal reptiles had scales, since neither mammals (synapsids) nor birds (dinosaurs) have them. That derived dinos (but not birds), lizards, crocs and turtles all had/have scales appear to be separate convergent developments. If anyone has skin data for early archosauriformes (other than paired dorsal scutes), please let me know.
Contra Attenborough’s samples, the origin of the amniote egg does not include the development of a shell. Rather just an amniotic membrane is common to all amniotes and this story begins in the Viséan. Shells developed by convergence in both major branches of the Reptilia (=Amniota).