Huaxiagnathus: yet another basal tyrannosauroid!

Updated May 23, 2016 with a deeper maxilla posterior to the antorbital fenestra. This was needed, as pointed out by M. Mortimer, to house the tooth roots. I missed the splinter that made the difference and someday may try to trace the palatal elements, which I have avoided at present. 

Huaxiagnathus orientalis
(Hwang et al. 2004, Fig. 1) was originally considered a large compsognathid. The Hwang et al tree (now 12 years old) nested Huaxiagnathus with Compsognathus and Sinosauropteryx in the clade Compsognathidae, derived from a sister to Ornitholestes, and basal to therizinosaurs, alvarezsaurs, oviraptors, birds, and deinonychosaurs.

Figure 1. Huaxiagnathus in situ with reconstructed skull, pes, manus and pelvis. Note the relatively large pedal digit 3, the large hyoid, and the twisty lacrimal. Hwang et al. did not provide a reconstruction.

Figure 1. Huaxiagnathus in situ with reconstructed skull, pes, manus and pelvis. Note the relatively large pedal digit 3, the large hyoid, and the twisty lacrimal. Hwang et al. did not provide a reconstruction.

Here
in the large reptile tree Huaxiagnathus nests at the base of the tyrannosauroids, between Tianyuraptor + Fukuivenator and Zhenyuanlong. Yet, another heresy…

Hwang et al. reported the absence of a sternum. 
That’s odd because all current sisters have a sternum. The fossil was collected by farmers, but no preparator was mentioned. Perhaps there was a village preparator. After many tests  conducted by AMNH personnel, the fossil was determined to be genuine, singular and not a chimaera. Given the presence of both humeri where they are, the sternum should be between them. It is not, so one wonders if the sternum was removed by the preparators to expose the underlying humerus. A DGS tracing appears to show the remains of a posterior sternum (Fig. 2, magenta, contra Hwang et al.).

Figure 2. Pectoral region of Huaxiagnathus with various elements colored for clarity. The magenta bone appears to be posterior rim of a sternum, overlooked or considered an elbow by Hwang et al.

Figure 2. Pectoral region of Huaxiagnathus with various elements colored for clarity. The magenta bone appears to be posterior rim of a sternum, overlooked or considered an elbow by Hwang et al. A second overlay colorizes bits and pieces of the possible sternum extending toward the coracoids.

The Hwang et al. diagnosis reports: 
“Differs from other known compsognathids in having

  1. a very long posterior process of the premaxilla that overlaps the antorbital fossa,
  2. a manus as long as the lengths of the humerus and radius combined,
  3. large manual unguals I and II that are subequal in length and 167% the length of manual ungual III,
  4. a first metacarpal that has a smaller proximal transverse width ( i.e. “narrower”) than the second metacarpal and
  5. a reduced olecranon process on the ulna.”

Comments:

  1. The premaxilla doesn’t overlap the maxillary fossa, but tyrannosaurs have a similar long posterior process
  2. true! and no related taxa share this trait, even those with more bird-like morphologies
  3. okay… but that’s a pretty exact percentage for ungual three! (similar to Zhenyuanlong, though)
  4. if so, then just barely a smaller transverse width
  5. as in several basal tyrannosauroid sisters
  6. Not mentioned above, but those pedal proportions seem unique, with a dominant pedal digit 3. The hyoid is enormous. So few and so large are the maxillary teeth that they seem to be unusual, especially compared to the tiny teeth of Compsognathus. There seem to be many ossified stiffening element scattered throughout the vertebral column. Higher resolution should solve this problem.

Like tyrannosauroids
Huaxinagnathus had a short neck and large skull longer than the cervicals and just about as long as half the presacral length. The convex maxilla orients the premaxilla into an ‘up’ orientation. The quadratojugal, here broken into several parts, has a mushroom dorsal process that meets a squamosal ‘lid’. The lacrimal has the familiar tyrannosaur-ish in and out twist. The the maxillary teeth are BIG and few.

Figure 3. Huaxiagnathus skull with elements colorized and reconstructed in figure 4. Orignal tracing is in black outline. Many of the bones are broken.

Figure 3. Huaxiagnathus skull with elements colorized and reconstructed in figure 4. Orignal tracing is in black outline. Many of the bones are broken.

A reconstruction puts the elements
back into their in vivo positions (Fig. 4). Many of the bones are broken and had to be repaired. The scleral elements are scattered.

Figure 4. Huaxiagnathus skull and hyoid reconstructed. See figure 4b for other clade member skulls.

Figure 4. Huaxiagnathus skull and hyoid reconstructed. See figure 4b for other clade member skulls.

Basal theropod subset of the large reptile tree
shows the nesting of Huaxiagnathus in the basal tyrannosauroids (Fig. 5). Both Compsognathus specimens have a most recent common ancestor, with no intervening taxa. Huaxiagnathus, originally considered a compsognathid is one if the whole clade is considered the Compsognathidae. Otherwise, Only Struthiomimus and the Compsognathus holotype form a clade and are sisters. The CNJ79 specimen of Compsognathus is not the adult form of the holotype (contra Peyer 2006), but deserves a new generic name.

Figure 1. Basal theropod subset of the large reptile tree showing troodontids basal to birds and separate from dromaeosaurs.

Figure 5. Basal theropod subset of the large reptile tree showing the two Compsognathus specimens. Hauxiagnathus is a basal tyrannosauroid derived from a sister to Compsognathus.

So…
with every new taxon repairs do get made to the large reptile tree, but the tree topology does not change very often. The theropod subset just keeps growing without shifting around. You would think that if there were enough scoring mistakes the tree topology would change. The key thought here is that some repairs actually cement relationships. The repairs typically, but not always, remove misinterpreted ‘autapomorpies.’ For instance, the ilium of Zhenyuanlong was earlier misinterpreted as having a longer anterior process, which would be an autapomorphy for the clade. A reexamination revealed the relatively longer posterior process (Fig. 6). So, it’s true what they say about me, I don’t get it right the first time all the time.

Figure 6. Zhenyuanlong has a new ilium with a shorter anterior process.

Figure 6. Zhenyuanlong has a new ilium with a shorter anterior process that was earlier misinterpreted.

Huaxiagnathus further cements
the relationships of Zhenyuanlong, Tianyuraptor and Fukuivenator to the tyrannosaurs (contra Hone 2016) and Brusatte (2015). For its size, it looks like one (Fig. 7) with robust lower limbs, large teeth on a curved maxilla, a large head relative to the neck and torso. And don’t forget to picture this skeleton with lots of feathers as in Zhenyuanlong (Fig. 6).

Figure 7. Huaxiagnathus reconstructed in lateral view.

Figure 7. Huaxiagnathus reconstructed in lateral view, sans feathers.

References
Brusatte S 2015. Rise of the Tyrannosaurs. Scientific American 312:34-41. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0515-34
Hwang SN. Norell MA, ji Q and Gao K-Q 2004. A large compsognathid from the Early Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 2(1):13-30.

wiki/Huaxiagnathus

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5 thoughts on “Huaxiagnathus: yet another basal tyrannosauroid!

  1. I have very high resolution photos of Huaxiagnathus’ skull (1648 pixels tall) that show what elements you identified that Hwang et al. didn’t are not determinable in the specimen. If nothing else, the fact that your posterior maxilla is too shallow to actually house tooth roots should convince you something is wrong.

    • Thank you, Mickey. I missed that splinter. And, it’s obvious that I think some unidentified elements are indeed determinable. That’s what I do and frankly my hits still outnumber my misses over the gamut of reptiles covered so far. The whole point of providing a new interpretation is to get it discussed, then confirmed our refuted, which, as you know, is how science operates. Even the best of us get some things wrong.

      • BTW, this would be an excellent opportunity for you to take your image and apply DGS colors to it, starting with the easy bones and segregating them layer by layer until all the elements that you know are there, are identified, whether in whole or in splinters.

  2. Also, Huaxiagnathus lacks an ossified sternum, as do all compsognathid-grade taxa. The big mass you identify in magenta is the distal part of the left humerus, while the posteriorly tapering bit is a dark infill between matrix blocks that continues past where your color ends, and is also e.g. the bit that flashes yellow then magenta proximal to the left humerus.

    “That’s what I do and frankly my hits still outnumber my misses over the gamut of reptiles covered so far”

    How do you know? Isn’t the fact you get very different results than everyone else (using morphology or molecules) for every amniote group you analyze evidence for the opposite- that your misses are outnumbering your hits?

  3. Shadows indicate that big mass is clearly on a higher level than the left humerus. And note that sternal ribs converge upon it. This is not gospel. It’s a proposal, as are ALL indentations made by all paleontologists. That -could- be the distal left humerus, rising higher than the rest of the bone with sternal ribs coincidentally attached to it.

    And like a gambler who counts only his wins, you have decided to count only my misses and none of my wins. “How do I know”? Every derived taxon in the trees is the product of a gradual accumulation of traits and all sister taxa look alike. There are no pterosaurs arising from basal archosaurifoms here. Vancleavea has no antorbital fenestra, so it nests with taxa that have no antorbital fenestra. In most sciences it is easy to test results. In paleontology, that is rarely done, as you know. I realize the risk I take. And I am willing to correct mistakes. Keep those cards and letters coming.

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