You might remember
earlier the basal tetrapod Ichthyostega (Fig. 1) shifted its nesting closer to Proterogyrinus (Figs. 2, 3) and Eucritta (Fig. 4) at the base of the Reptilomorpha. One of the reasons for that shift was a reexamination of the pes of Ichthyostega, which has seven digits. Which digits are homologous with the five that are found in many other higher tetrapods?
Metatarsal and phalangeal proportions
provide clues. If the above digit identities ares used, there is a pretty close match to related taxa. Acanthostega, for instance, has eight pedal digits with metatarsal 3 about twice as long as the more medial metatarsals. Distinct from Ichthyostega, Acanthostega has only one phalanx on digit 1 and only 2 phalanges on digit 2, but in keeping with the ‘one less’ phalangeal formula, digits 3–7 stop at 3 phalanges. In Ichthyostega digits 4 and 5 each add a phalanx, approaching the pattern seen in Proterogyrinus.
reconstructed the pes of Proterogyrinus (Fig. 2). If one takes the data from in situ drawings provided by Holmes (Fig. 3), reconstructions of both pedes can be created to check the accuracy of the Holmes reconstruction while removing any freehand bias.
The pes of the related Eucrtta also bears another look.
It is more difficult to reconstruct based on the taphonomic scattering of the elements. If you’ll notice the medial three digits of Eucritta each appear to have one less phalanx, as in Acanthostega.
Which makes one wonder about Ichthyostega.
The vestigial digit between 2 and 3 in particular gives one pause. We know that salamanders can regrow their extremities. Based on the unusual apparent binding of pedal digits 1 and 2 in Ichthyostega, along with the vestige of a digit between 2 and 3, One may wonder if that unusual morphology is the result of an accident or injury with subsequent imperfect or unfinished regeneration. Another identical Ichthyostega pes would falsify this hypothesis.
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