Today we’ll reexamine the traditional nesting of caseasaurs with synapsids with a focus on Vaughnictis (Fig. 1), which looks kind of like a caseasaur. Earlier we made the case that the Caseasauria nested better with Millerettidae than with Synapsida when more taxa are included. Since then Vaughnictis was added to the large reptile tree (LRT, 1012 taxa) and it nested as the last known common ancestor to birds and bats (= archosauromorph diapsids and synapsids).
Despite great resemblance,
the basal prosynapsid Vaughnictis (Fig. 1) does not attract the clade Caseasauria (Fig. 2; Casea, Cotylorynchus and kin including Datheosaurus and Eothyris,Fig. 1) back to the base of the Synapsida (Fig. 3; Varanosaurus, Dimetrodon and kin). Given their phylogenetic distance from one another, the resemblance is indeed extraordinary, especially in the temporal area. Perhaps even more so between Vaughnictis and Milleretta, than with a basal caseasaurid, like Eothyris.
the LRT nests caseasaurs with Eothyris + Oedaleops + Colobomycter) and slightly further from Feeserpeton + Australothyris + Eocasea and kin. A shift of the Caseasauria (Fig. 2) to the base of the Synapsida (Fig. 3) adds at least 26 steps.
Despite sharing a lateral temporal fenestra
caseasaurs share more traits with millerettids than with synapsids, which retain their predatory teeth and a taller, narrower skull. Vaughnictis retains a short rostrum from ancestors like Protorothyris (Fig. 3). Synapsids never had the rostral overbite found in caesars, nor did they have that arrowhead-shaped set of nasals. Caseids and kin had three premaxillary teeth, not four or more as found in synapsids and Vaughnictis. The surangular in caseids does not extend anterior to the coronoid process. The dentary tip rises in synapsids, but not caseids, among several other distinct traits.
Can Vaughnictis make Caseasauria a synapsid clade again?
No. Not with the present taxon list. The reason why experts continue to promote caseasaurs as synapsids goes back to a long-standing tradition of taxon exclusion. They exclude members of the Millerettidae. Expand the gamut of your taxon list, and let the taxa nest wherever they want to.