Libonectes enters the LRT

After applying colors to
the bones in a photograph of the skull of Libonectes (Fig. 1, Turonian, early Late Cretaceous, Welles 1949, originally Elasmosaurus morgani), the Carpenter 1997 drawing was added to gauge similarities and difference. A transparent GIF makes this easy. Comparisons to the earlier (Late Triassic) Yunguisaurus and Thalassiodracon are instructional. These taxa also rotate the orbits anteriorly, providing binocular vision. The pterygoid (dark green) pops out slightly behind the jugal.

Figure 1. The skull of Libonectes. Freehand drawing from Carpenter xxxx. DGS colors added here. Some parts of the original fossil may be restored.

Figure 1. The skull of Libonectes. Freehand drawing from Carpenter 1997. DGS colors added here. Some parts of the original fossil may be restored. The fossil may be more fully prepared than this now. Note the slight differences between the fossil and drawing. The orbits appear to permit binocular vision.

Libonectes morgani, (Welles 1949, Elasmosaurus morgani, Carpenter 1997) an elasmosaur of the Turonian, early Late Cretaceous. In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1399 taxa) this skull nests with the skull-less Albertonectes (Fig. 2) and Plesiosaurus (Fig. 3) at first with no resolution owing to the lack of common traits between the skull-only and skull-less taxa.

Figure 3. Plesiosaurus skull in several views alongside the pectoral girdle.

Figure 2. Plesiosaurus skull in several views representing two specimens alongside the pectoral girdle. Data comes only from this drawing, not the fossil itself, which I have not yet seen.

Later the post-crania of Libonectes is added
and the two elasmosaurs now nest together sharing fore limbs slightly longer than hind limbs (Fig. 3) among several other less obvious traits. Neck length, much longer with more vertebrae than in Plesiosaurus, scores the same, “Presacral vertebrae, 31 or more” in the LRT.

Figure 1. Libonectes flippers. 2nd frame shows PILs. Terrestrial tetrapods flex and extend along continuous PILs. The in vivo misalignment of phalanges in Libonectes largely prevents flexion and extension, creating a large stiff flipper at misaligned PILs. Those that are more proximal are continuous, permitting a limited amount of flexion and extension.

Figure 3. Libonectes flippers. 2nd frame shows PILs. Terrestrial tetrapods flex and extend along continuous PILs. The in vivo misalignment of phalanges in Libonectes largely prevents flexion and extension, creating a large stiff flipper at misaligned PILs. Those that are more proximal are continuous, permitting a limited amount of flexion and extension.

Sachs and Kears 2017
bring us images and descriptions of the post-crania of Libonectes, a Late Cretaceous elasmosaur, one of the sauropterygian plesiosaurs, similar in most respects to the other tested elasmosaur, Albertonectes, which we looked at earlier here.

Distinct from terrestrial tetrapods
that flex and extend their phalanges along continuous PILs, the in vivo misalignment of phalanges in Libonectes largely prevents flexion and extension, creating a stiffer flipper at the misaligned PILs. Note, those that are more proximal are continuous, permitting more flexion and extension.

PILs were first documented
in Peters 2000. Many taxa may be distinguished by their fore and hind PIL patterns as also shown for pterosaurs in Peters 2011.

It is worth noting (and scoring)
that the forelimbs are slightly larger than the hind limbs in elasmosaurs, distinct from other sauropterygians, convergent with many ichthyosaurs, sea turtles and perhaps other taxa I am overlooking presently (overlooking some birds and all bats and pterosaurs for the moment, because they fly).

Figure 5. Elasmosaurid origins. The long neck preceded the flippers in this clade of vertical feeders.

Figure 4. Elasmosaurid origins. The long neck preceded the flippers in this clade of vertical feeders.

We looked at hypothetical elasmosaur swimming techniques
a few months ago here.

References
Carpenter K 1999. Revision of North American elasmosaurs from the Cretaceous of the western interior. Paludicola, 2(2): 148-173.
Sachs S and Kear BP 2017. Redescription of the elasmosaurid plesiosaurian Libonectes atlasense from the Upper Cretaceous of Morocco. Cretaceous Research 74:205–222.
Welles SP 1949. A new elasmosaur from the Eagle Ford Shale of Texas. Fondren
Science Series, Southern Methodist University 1: 1-28.

wiki/Albertonectes
wiki/Libonectes

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