The cervical/dorsal transition in Herrerasaurus

Figure 1. Lewisuchus cervical/dorsal transition at top photo and the same for Herrerasaurus drawings, including a foreword shift of the pectoral girdle in a 2-frame GIF movie. The cervical ribs are imagined.

Figure 1. Lewisuchus cervical/dorsal transition at top photo and the same for Herrerasaurus drawings, including a foreword shift of the pectoral girdle in a 2-frame GIF movie. The cervical ribs are imagined in the drawing. See text for details. Drawings from Novas and Sereno 1994.

In their report on the basal dinosaur Herrerasaurus,
Sereno and Novas 1993 reported, “The cervical column (Fig. 1) was preserved in articulation with the skull. The anterior cervical vertebrae are better preserved than the posterior cervical vertebrae, and nearly all the ribs are lacking.”

“Because the cervical-dorsal transition in vertebrae or ribs is not preserved, we regard the first ten presacral vertebrae as cervical vertebrae, based on the condition in other basal dinosaurians.”

Despite their assessment, 
Novas and Sereno appear to have reconstructed Herrerasaurus with no more than six or possibly seven cervicals (Fig. 1, original).  With phylogenetic scoring at issue, a deeper look was warranted.

Novas and Sereno 1993 considered Herrerasaurus
a member of the ‘Ornithodira’ thus related to pterosaurs and Lagerpeton. That hypothesis is not supported by the present study.

By contrast,
in the large reptile tree (LRT) Herrerasaurus arises from another list of taxa, including Junggarsuchus, Pseudhesperosuchus, LewisuchusTurfanosuchus and further distantly Decuriasuchus. Bittencourt et al. 2014 identify seven cervicals in Lewisuchus (Fig. 1) with the eighth having ribs descending into the torso. Seven is a number common to crocodylomorpha* and Lewisuchus nests at its base. Turfanosuchus and Decuriasuchus each have eight cervicals, a plesiomorphic number going back at least to basal archosauriformes, like Proterosuchus and to basal diapsids, like Petrolacosaurus.

Based on available data,
Herrerasaurus had but seven cervicals as a basal dinosaur. Based on data from Tawa, Marasuchus, Eodromaeus and Eoraptor, all slightly more derived basal dinosaurs had 9 or 10.

* Among Crocodylomorpha, Scleromochlus has six cervicals, Gracilisuchus, Litargoschus and Terrerstrisuchus have eight, as do modern crocs and their relatives by convergence. Intervening taxa often have seven.

Bittencourt JS, Arcucci AB, Maricano CA and Langer MC 2014. Osteology of the Middle Triassic archosaur Lewisuchus admixtus Romer (Chañares Formation, Argentina) its inclusivity, and relationships amongst early dinosauromorphs. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. Published online: 31 Mar 201. DOI:10.1080/14772019.2013.878758
Nesbitt SJ. et al. 2010. Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister group shows early diversification of Ornithodira. Nature 464(7285):95-8
Novas FE 1994. New information on the systematics and postcranial skeleton of Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis (Theropoda: Herrerasauridae) from the Ischigualasto Romer AS 1972. The Chañares (Argentina) Triassic reptile fauna; XIV, Lewisuchusadmixtus, gen. et sp. nov., a further thecodont from the Chañares beds. Breviora 390:1-13
Sereno PC and Novas FE 1993. The skull and neck of the basal theropod Herrerasaurusischigualastensis. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 13: 451-476. doi:10.1080/02724634.1994.10011525.



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