Was the first dinosaur egg soft?

Norell et al. (8 co-authors) 2020
used phylogenetic bracketing to determine that the first dinosaur egg (still unknown) was soft. They made one mistake that invalidates their phylogenetic bracket (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. From Norell et al. 2020 misleading readers by placing pterosaurs, Lagerpeton and Silesaurus in the lineage of dinosaurs after crocodylomorphs.

Figure 1. From Norell et al. 2020 misleading readers by placing pterosaurs, Lagerpeton and Silesaurus in the lineage of dinosaurs after crocodylomorphs.

From the Norell et al. abstract:
“However, pterosaurs—the sister group to dinosauromorphs—laid soft eggs.”

Simply adding taxa reveals this is wrong.
In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1698+ taxa) pterosaurs nest within Lepidosauria. The pterosaur – dinosaur myth was invalidated by Peters 2000, 2007. So we have to toss out pterosaurs as an invalid nesting. What are we left with?

According to Norell et al.
Crocodylia create rigid calcite eggs. So do members of the Theropoda (including birds). So do members of the phytodinosaur clades, Ornithopoda and Macronaria. Exceptions occur among the highly derived Ceratopsia, which lay soft eggs. Two more exceptions include the primitive sauropodomorphs, Massospondylus and Mussaurus. More importantly, egg shellls remain unknown for basal poposaurs, basal crocodylomorphs, basal theropods and basal phytodinosaurs.

When we use phylogenetic bracketing to make a statement like this
we need to be sure that we have the proper phylogeny. Norell et al. relied on tradition and myth rather than testing. They were wrong. In their claodgram, Norell et al. are hopeful that pterosaurs arose between crocodylomorphs and Lagerpeton (a bipedal proterochampsid also not related to dinosaurs). The Norell et al. cladogram was invalidated by Peters 2000 using four prior phylogenetic analyses. Those citations do not appear in Norell et al. (fufilling Bennett’s curse). In the LRT Silesaurus is a poposaur and thus a dinosaur-mimic, less related to dinosaurs than crocodylomorphs.

When we find eggs for Herrerasaurus and Eoraptor
then we can send a manuscript to Nature. Norell et al. were premature at best, misleading and myth perpetuating at worst. That the referees considered this manuscript okay to publish shows the dinosaur – pterosaur myth is still widespread and deeply entrenched, as discussed earlier here.

Norell et al. 2020. The first dinosaur egg was soft. Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2412-8
Peters D 2000b. A Redescription of Four Prolacertiform Genera and Implications for Pterosaur Phylogenesis. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia 106 (3): 293–336.
Peters D 2007. The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. In D. Hone ed. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, 2007, Munich, Germany. p. 27.


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