It’s not Hovasaurus – and it’s not in a museum

A slight departure today
to the world of fossil commerce. This reptile is new to Science, so it should be presented to a museum for study, but it’s for sale online. And it was misidentified by the proprietors (who have been notified).

Figure 1. Specimen wrongly interpreted as Hovasaurus from FineFossils.com

Figure 1. Specimen wrongly identified as Hovasaurus from FineFossils.com

Cruising around the Internet
I found this specimen (Fig. 1) at FineFossils.com misidentified as Hovasaurus (Fig. 2). The differences are pretty obvious, so I won’t belabor them here. The new specimen is from the same strata and location as Hovasaurus, which is probably the reason for the mistake.

Figure 1. Tangasaurus, Hovasaurus and Thadeosaurus, three marine younginiformes, apparently have no scapula.

Figure 2. Tangasaurus, Hovasaurus and Thadeosaurus, three marine younginiformes compared. Hovasaurus, as you can see bears little resemblance to the FineFossils.com specimen mislabeled as Hovasaurus.

From the FineFossils
website: Hovasaurus boulei was a small aquatic Diapsid reptile, of the order Eosuchia, and dates from the late Permian Period, 260m to 251m years old. This specimen was discovered in the Middle Sankamena Formation, Sankamena Valley, Madagascar. It is very rare to find such a complete specimen in perfect condition, displaying a wonderfully preserved skeleton.

These reptiles are known to have a laterally flattened tail [but this one does not have such a tail!], very much like a modern day sea snake, making them extremely agile in the water.  Stones have been found in the abdomens of these creatures [but no stones were found here], indicating that they swallowed small stones to give them ballast, preventing them from floating to the surface when they were hunting prey underwater. 

This Hovasaurus is an amazing example of this very ancient reptile, and is of museum quality [other than the upside-down skull, the specimen has no obvious errors]. We have seen other specimens, but the majority are dis-articulated or incomplete.
The only restoration to this piece is at the tip of the tail.

Size:    matrix  47cms x 15cms
Size:    reptile   46cms long

The description of this specimen
recalls the mid 1800s in the earliest days of fossil collection when every pterosaur discovered was referred to  Pterodactylus, despite readily observable differences from the holotype. This specimen (Fig. 1)  is probably more marketable with a name. The name might also imply it is common enough to be sold to private individuals, like the Green River fossil fish magnets that adorn American refrigerators.

Figure 3. The FineFossils.com specimen traced and reconstructed. This previously unknown specimen nests at the base of the Diapsida, close to Eudibamus, but has an extended rostrum.

Figure 3. The FineFossils.com specimen traced and reconstructed. This previously unknown specimen nests at the base of the Diapsida, close to Eudibamus, but has an extended rostrum.

In this case, however,
the specimen is new to Science. It has not been assigned a generic name. It has not been studied yet (other than by what you’re reading here). The FineFossils specimen has a longer rostrum than other basal diapsids and hints at a broader radiation at this node. It is basal to Eudibamus, Aphelosaurus, Petrolacosaurus (Fig. 4) and Araeoscelis on one branch. It is basal to Spinoaequalis and all the marine and terrestrial Younginiforms, including birds and crocs, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, on the other branch. The rostrum appears to have an antorbital fenestra (Fig. 4), but that is due to crushing and shifting of the elements.

Figure 4. Fine fossils skull wrongly attributed to Hovasaurus traced and reconstructed. This is an unnamed genus new to Science.

Figure 4. Fine fossils skull wrongly attributed to Hovasaurus traced and reconstructed. This is an unnamed genus new to Science. The apparent antorbital fenestra is an illusion produced by taphonomic shifting.

So, if anyone has deep pockets out there
you can make a purchase and a museum donation that will be much appreciated by reptile paleontologists everywhere. This is a unique specimen nesting at a key node on the family tree that I can only chat about online, since it currently has no museum number. It can’t find a permanent place on the large reptile tree without that museum number.

It would be worthy of a publication!

It’s rare. It’s unique.
And if you work it right, it might be named for you as in ‘Rogersaurus’, ‘Marysaurus’ or, better yet… Diapsidsaurus longirostrum would make a suitable name for the reasons listed above.

Figure 2. Petrolacosaurus is an earlier sister to Araeoscelis with a definite diapsid temporal configuration, but oddly the upper temporal fenestra is largely lateral in this taxon.

Figure 5. Petrolacosaurus is an earlier sister to Araeoscelis with a definite diapsid temporal configuration, but oddly the upper temporal fenestra is largely lateral in this taxon. The parietals are quite broad.

Speaking of basal diapsids
Once hailed as the most basal disapsid, Petrolacosaurus (Lane 1945, Reisz 1977) is now much more derived with several more primitive diapsid taxa preceding it on the large reptile tree, including the FineFossils.com specimen. All this hints at an earlier radiation, the kind we talked about earlier here.

References
Lane HH 1945. New Mid-Pennsylvanian Reptiles from Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 47(3):381-390.
Reisz RR 1977. Petrolacosaurus, the Oldest Known Diapsid Reptile. Science, 196:1091-1093. DOI: 10.1126/science.196.4294.1091

wiki/Petrolacosaurus

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