Gill covers vs gill slits above and below the pectoral fins

Rays, sawfish and skates have gill slits on their flat undersides. 
White and mako sharks have gill slits on their lateral sides. Sturgeons, ratfish and most bony fish, have an operculum. Lampreys have a series of lateral gill holes. Ostracoderms have a series of holes on their flat ventral surface. Moray eels and their deep sea relatives have a single lateral hole without an operculum.

Those are the observations.
What do the evolutionary patterns tell us?

Put into a phylogenetic context, 
(Fig. 1) patterns emerge, but reversals are apparent.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT showing the pattern of gill slits and opercula in basal vertebrates.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT showing the pattern of gill slits and opercula in basal vertebrates.

What you don’t want to do
is get caught “Pulling a Larry Martin” (= defining a clade by a short list of traits, like the type of gill openings present). Some clade members don’t follow all of ‘the rules’, but all clade members follow most of ‘the rules.’ If they don’t, they go to another clade.

What you do want to do
is let all the traits and all the taxa fight it out, out of sight, deep in the 0s and 1s of your unbiased software and see what patterns emerge.

For this situation I was curious to see
what patterns emerged, given the present cladogram. Sharp-eyed readers will note this portion has been corrected since the last time it was presented, and probably not for the last time as each new taxon sheds new light on various subsets of the LRT. It’s an ongoing project in real time. It’s never finished.

PS You’ve heard that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. 
Here’s a series of paddlefish larvae at weekly intervals.

and all the taxa fight it out,

Figure 2. Paddlefish larvae change as they grow. Adults have an enormous gill cover that starts off much smaller in hatchlings. Note the shark-like stage and the earlier bowfin-like stage, not so much recapitulating phylogeny, but predicting it in descendant taxa.

Note the shark-like stage
and the earlier bowfin-like stage, not so much recapitulating phylogeny, but predicting it in descendant taxa.

Happy holidays.
Thank you for your readership. Be good.

The larger specimen of Sinopterus atavismus enters the LPT basal to dsungaripterids

Many pterosaur fossils attributed to Sinopterus
have been described. They vary greatly in size and shape.

Presently four Sinopterus specimens have been added
to the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 253 taxa). They are all sister taxa, but as in Archaeopteryx, no two are alike, one is basal to the others, which are, in turn, basal to large clades within the Tapejaridae.

  1. Sinopterus dongi (the holotype) nests basal to the Tupuxuara clade.
  2. Sinopterus liui nests in the Tupuxuara clade.
  3. Sinopterus jii (aka Huaxiapterus jii) nests basal to the Tapejara clade.
  4. Sinopterus atavisms (Figs. 1-4; Zhang et al. 2019; IVPP V 23388) nests basal to the Dsungaripterus (Fig. 4) clade, outside the Tapejaridae.
Figure 1. Sinopterus atavismus in situ.

Figure 1. Sinopterus atavismus in situ. IVPP V 23388

From the Zhang et al. 2019 abstract:
“Here, we report on a new juvenile specimen of Sinopterus atavismus from the Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning, China, and revise the diagnosis of this species.”

Zhang et al. note that several elements are unfused including a humeral epiphysis. Several pits and grooves in the distal ends of the long bones are also pitted and grooved. Normally these would be good indicators in archosaurs and mammals, but pterosaurs are lepidosaurs and lepidosaurs follow distinctly different ‘rules’ for growth (Maisano 2002). As an example, some pterosaur embryos have fused elements. Some giant pterosaurs have unfused elements. Here the new specimen (IVPP 23388) is considered an ontogenetic adult as its size is similar to other phylogenetic relatives.

“Sinopterus atavismus does not present a square-like crest. Moreover the feature that groove in the ventral part of the second or third phalanx of manual digit IV is not diagnostic of the species.”

Zhang et al. are comparing the new larger IVPP specimen to the smaller, previously described (Lü et al. 2016) XHPM 1009 specimen (then named Huaxiapterus atavismus), which they considered conspecific. The XHPM specimen has wing phalanx grooves while the IVPP specimen does not. The shapes of the skulls do not match (Fig. 3) and we know that pterosaurs grew isometrically. Thus these two specimens are not conspecific.

“In the new material, the skull preserves a pointed process in the middle part of the dorsal marginof the premaxillary crest, which is different from other Chinese tapejarids. Considering the new specimen is known from a large skeleton that differed from the holotype, this difference may be related to ontogeny, as the premaxillary crest of the holotype is short and does not extend as long as that of the new specimen.”

These two specimens are not conspecific, so ontogenetic comparisons should not be made.

Figure 2. Sinopterus atavismus reconstruction.

Figure 2. Sinopterus atavismus reconstruction.

From the Zhang et al. 2019 discussion:
“Except for D 2525 which represents an adult individual of Sinopterus (Lü et al. 2006b), all Chinese tapejarid pterosaurs known so far were immature individuals at the time of death. The new specimen (IVPP 23388) shares some features with the holotype of Sinopterus atavismus. The wingspan of the new material is about twice as long as that of the holotype of S. atavismus.”

As mentioned above, the IVPP V 23388 specimen is here considered an adult with unfused bone elements. It needs both a new generic and specific name. The XHPM 1009 specimen (Fig. 3) requires further study.

Figure 3. Sinopterus atavismus size comparison

Figure 3. Sinopterus atavismus size and shape comparison.

The present confusion about the ontogenetic status of pterosaurs 
could have been largely resolved with the publication of “The first juvenile Rhamphorhynchus recovered by phylogenetic analysis” and other papers suppressed by pterosaur referees. Sorry, readers, we’ll have to forge ahead with the venues we have.

Figure 3. Sinopterus atavismus skull restored (gray areas).

Figure 4. Sinopterus atavismus skull restored (gray areas).

Figure 4. Sinopterus atavisms compared to Dsungaripterus to scale.

Figure 5. Sinopterus atavisms compared to Dsungaripterus to scale.

Sinopterus atavismus (Zhang et al. 2019; Early Cretaceous; IVPP V 23388) was originally considered a juvenile member of the Tapejaridae, but here nests as a small adult basal to Dsungaripteridae. The antorbital fenestra is not taller than the orbit. The carpals are not fused. No notarium is present. The antebrachium is robust. The distant pedal phalanges are longer than the proximal pedal phalanges. An internal egg appears to be present (but half-final-size adults were sexually mature according to Chinsamy et al. 2008,)

Sinopterus dongi IVPP V13363 (Wang and Zhou 2003) wingspan 1.2 m, 17 cm skull length, was linked to Tapejara upon its discovery, but is closer to Tupuxuara.

Sinopterus? liui (Meng 2015; IVPP 14188) is represented by a virtually complete and articulated specimen attributed to Sinopterus, but nests here at the base of Tupuxuara longicristatus.

Sinopterus jii (originally Huaxiapterus jii, Lü and Yuan 2005; GMN-03-11-001; Early Cretaceous) is basal to the Tapejara in the LPT, distinct from the other sinopterids basal to Tupuxuara.

Figure 5. Click to enlarge. The Tapejaridae arise from dsungaripterids and germanodactylids.

Figure 5. Click to enlarge. The Tapejaridae arise from dsungaripterids and germanodactylids.

The present LPT hypothesis of interrelationships
appears to be a novel due to taxon inclusion, reconstruction and phylogenetic analysis. If not novel, please let me know so I can promote the prior citation.

Traditional phylogenies falsely link azhdarchids with tapejarids
in an invalid clade ‘Azhdarchoidea‘. The LPT has never supported this clade (also see Peters 2007), which is based on one character: an antorbital fenestra taller than the orbit (that a few sinopterids lack). Pterosaur workers have been “Pulling a Larry Martin” by counting on this one character and by excluding pertinent taxa that would have shown them this is a convergent trait ever since the first cladograms appeared in Kellner 2003 and Unwin 2003.

Figure 1. Gene studies link swifts to hummingbirds. Trait studies link swifts to owlets. Trait studies link hummingbirds to stilts.

Figure x. Gene studies link swifts to hummingbirds. Trait studies link swifts to owlets. Trait studies link hummingbirds to stilts.

Unrelated update:
The stilt, Himantopus (Fig. x) has moved one node over and now nests closer to the hummingbird, Archilochus. Both arise from the Eocene bird, Eocypselus, which also gives rise to the hovering seagull, Chroicocephalus. The long, mud probing beak of the stilt was adapted to probing flowers in the hummingbird. All these taxa nested close together in the LRT earlier.


References
Chinsamy A, Codorniú L and Chiappe LM 2008. Developmental growth patterns of the filter-feeder pterosaur, Pterodaustro guinazui. Biology Letters, 4: 282-285.
Kellner AWA 2003. 
Pterosaur phylogeny and comments on the evolutionary history of the group. Geological Society Special Publications 217: 105-137.
Lü J and Yuan C 2005. 
New tapejarid pterosaur from Western Liaoning, China. Acta Geologica Sinica. 79 (4): 453–458.
Maisano JA 2002. The potential utility of postnatal skeletal developmental patterns in squamate phylogenetics. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 22:82A.
Maisano JA 2002.
Terminal fusions of skeletal elements as indicators of maturity in squamates. Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology 22: 268–275.
Peters D 2007. The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. In D. Hone ed. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, 2007, Munich, Germany. p. 27.
Unwin DM 2003. On the phylogeny and evolutionary history of pterosaurs. Pp. 139-190. in Buffetaut, E. & Mazin, J.-M., (eds.) (2003). Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 217, London, 1-347.
Wang X and Zhou Z 2003. A new pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea, Tapejaridae) from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of western Liaoning, China and its implications for biostratigraphy. Chinese Science Bulletin 48:16-23.
Zhang X, Jiang S, Cheng X and Wang X 2019. New material of Sinopterus (Pterosauria, Tapejaridae) from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota of China. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias 91(2):e20180756. DOI 10.1590/0001-3765201920180756.

wiki/Sinopterus

Growth pattern of a new large Romualdo pterosaur

Bantim et al. 2020 document
a new “pteranodontoid pterosaur with anhanguerid affinities (MPSC R 1935) from the Romualdo Formation (Lower Cretaceous, Aptian-Albian), is described here and provides one of the few cases where the ontogenetic stage is established by comparison of skeletal fusion and detailed osteohistological analyses.”

Figure 1. Excellent wing finger carpophalangeal joint from the Bantim et al. 2020 paper. Note the unfused sesamoid (extensor tendon process), a phylogenetic trait of lepidosaurs, not an ontogenetic trait of archosaurs, as phylogenetic analysis documents.

Figure 1. Excellent wing finger carpophalangeal joint from the Bantim et al. 2020 paper. Note the unfused sesamoid (extensor tendon process), a phylogenetic trait of lepidosaurs, not an ontogenetic trait of archosaurs, as phylogenetic analysis documents.

Continuing from the abstract
“The specimen … consists of a left forelimb, comprising an incomplete humerus, metacarpal IV, pteroid and digits I, II, III, IV, including unguals. This specimen has an estimated maximized wingspan of 7.6 meters, and despite its large dimensions, is considered as an ontogenetically immature individual. Where observable, all bone elements are unfused, such as the extensor tendon process of the first phalanx and the carpal series. The absence of some microstructures such as bone resorption cavities, endosteal lamellae, an external fundamental system (EFS), and growth marks support this interpretation. Potentially, this individual could have reached a gigantic wingspan, contributing to the hypothesis that such large flying reptiles might have been abundant during Aptian-Albian of what is now the northeastern portion of Brazil.”

Anhanguera

Figure 2. Anhanguera.

By comparison,
coeval Anhanguera has a 4.6m (15 ft) wingspan. The largest complete ornithocheirid, SMNK PAL 1136 has a 6.6m wingspan.

Bone elements fuse and lack fusion
in phylogenetic patterns (rather than ontogenetic patterns) in the clade Pterosauria, as documented earlier here in 2012. That is why you can’t keep pretending pterosaurs are archosaurs and not expect problems like this to accumulate. Your professors are taking your time and money and giving you invalidated information.

Figure 5. Largest Pteranodon to scale with largest ornithocheirid, SMNS PAL 1136.

Figure 5. Largest Pteranodon to scale with largest ornithocheirid, SMNS PAL 1136.

It is a continuing black mark on the paleo community
that pterosaurs continue to be considered archosaurs by paid professionals when phylogenetic analysis (and Peters 2007 and the LRT) nests pterosaurs with lepidosaurs. That is why pterosaurs have lepidosaur phylogenetic fusion patterns (Maison 2002, 2002) distinct from archosaur ontogenetic fusion patterns. Just add taxa colleagues. The pterosaur puzzle piece does not fit into the archosaur slot… everyone admits that. The pterosaur puzzle piece continues to fit perfectly and wonderfully in the fenestrasaur tritosaur lepidosaur slot.


References
Bantim RAM et al. (5 co-authors) 2020. Osteohistology and growth pattern of a large pterosaur from the lower Cretaceous Romualdo formation of the Araripe basin, northeastern Brazil. Science Direct https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cretres.2020.104667
Maisano JA 2002. The potential utility of postnatal skeletal developmental patterns in squamate phylogenetics. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 22:82A.
Maisano JA 2002.
Terminal fusions of skeletal elements as indicators of maturity in squamates. Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology 22: 268–275.
Peters D 2007. 
The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. In D. Hone ed. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, 2007, Munich, Germany. p. 27.

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/phylogenetic-fusion-patterns-in-pterosaurs/

SVP abstract 20: Squamate variability within a single species

Petermann and Gauthier 2020 bring us their views on the 
“potential consequences of our inability to assess intraspecific variability in growth rates.”

From the Petermann and Gauthier abstract:
“An investigation of life-history parameters in the extant iguanian lizard Sauromalus ater (the Common Chuckwalla), a sexually dimorphic species from the SW U.S.A., revealed remarkable intraspecific variability.”

“We found expected differences in growth strategies between males and females, but also within each sex, relating to body size and the timing of sexual maturity. Males and females can grow rapidly to size-at-sexual-maturity, producing above-average adult body sizes. Or, they can grow slowly to size-at-sexual-maturity, yielding adults at or below average body sizes. Neither growth strategy influences longevity. As a result, we found that body size of similar-aged individuals varied by 53% for males and 38% for females, and maximum differences in ‘adults’ of 64% for males and 38% for females.”

Further ranging results were found here earlier in the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 251 taxa) for the lepidosaur pterosaurs, Pteranodon (Fig. 1) and Rhamphorhynchus (Fig. 2). These both became fully resolved in phylogenetic analysis.

Figure 2. The DMNH specimen is in color, nesting between the short crest KS specimen and the long crest AMNH specimen.

Figure 2. The DMNH specimen is in color, nesting between the short crest KS specimen and the long crest AMNH specimen.

Figure 2. Rhamphorhynchus specimens to scale. The Lauer Collection specimen would precede the Limhoff specimen on the second row.

Figure 2. Rhamphorhynchus specimens to scale. The Lauer Collection specimen would precede the Limhoff specimen on the second row.

Continuing from the Petermann and Gauthier abstract:
“Our results add to previous reports of intraspecific variability in extant and extinct vertebrates. High levels of intraspecific size-variability have multiple implications for vertebrate paleontology.

  1. Morphologically similar specimens from the same locality could belong to the same species even if the size difference among adult individuals exceeds 50%, which is a higher level than previously thought.
  2. Specimens that have been analyzed skeletochronologically and have been found to be similar or identical in chronological age, may not exhibit similar sizes.
  3. Variability in growth strategies may lead to mistaking males and females (especially among sexual dimorphs), or individuals using different growth strategies, as belonging to separate species.”

This is the way evolution works in all vertebrate communities, including humans, where some are taller, some are robust, some are more colorful or sexier, some are brilliant, distinct from the others. In both Rhamphorhynchus and Pteranodon, no two specimens are alike.

“We previously presented evidence that a sequence of sub-terminal skeletal suture fusions relates to maximum body size in squamates, and not to chronological age. This indicates that late-ontogenetic, suture-fusion events could be used to evaluate whether two or more specimens of similar morphology and chronological age are differently-sized conspecifics. Likewise, skeletal suture fusions may aid discerning different growth strategies within a single species, as opposed to the presence of two morphologically similar, but nonetheless separate, species in a single taphonomic assemblage.”

This follows the work of Maisano 2002, who found fusion patterns were phylogenetic in lepidosaurs. a pattern continued in pterosaurs, where fusion patterns are also phylogenetic, distinct form archosaur growth patterns.


References
Maisano JA 2002. 
Terminal fusions of skeletal elements as indicators of maturity in squamates. Journal of Vertebrae Paleontology 22: 268–275.
Petermann H and Gauthier JA 2020. Intrespecific variability in an extant squamate and its implications for use in skeletochronology in extinct vertebrates. SVP abstracts 2020.

 

Hone et al. 2020 vs. Rhamphorhynchus

Long one today.
Summary, for those in a hurry:
Hone et al. 2020 bring us their views
on Rhamphorhynchus ontogeny (= growth from hatchling to adult). Unfortunately, this study is based on several invalid assumptions. Lacking a phylogenetic context, Hone et al. made the mistake of comparing small adults to large adults. No juveniles were tested. Subsequent ontogeny comparisons to birds and bats were thus rendered moot.

Figure 2. Rhamphorhynchus specimens to scale. The Lauer Collection specimen would precede the Limhoff specimen on the second row.

Figure 2. Rhamphorhynchus specimens to scale based on results from the LPT. No two are alike — except the juvenile Vienna specimen and the adult n81.

Before we get started, you might remember:

  1. A competing paper has been online for 2 years: ‘First Rhamphorhynchus juvenile recovered by phylogenetic analysis’ in which only one juvenile/adult pairing was found among all 31 specimens shown in figure 1. Among the rest, no two are alike. The small ones in the top row are not juveniles, but phylogenetically miniaturized adult basal Rhamphorhynchus species. (Perhaps someday, someone will re-name them all appropriately.)
  2. All pterosaurs (so far tested) develop isometrically (with the exception of tapejarid crests) because that’s what lepidosaurs do.
  3. Hatchling pterosaurs are typically 1/8 as tall as adults.
  4. Only hatchlings of a certain minimum size can fly. Hatchlings below this hypothetical size risk desiccation due to a high surface-to-volume ratio. That’s when quadrupedal locomotion enters pterosaur clades. Extradermal soft tissue that limits desiccation first appears on tiny, flapping pre-pterosaurs like Cosesaurus.
  5. New pterosaur clades often begin with a series of phylogenetically miniaturized transitional taxa (as in Fig. 1). This only appears in phylogenetic analyses when small and large taxa are analyzed together. That has not happened yet in published analyses because other workers make the same mistake as they consider small adult taxa to be mismatched juveniles (thereby destroying the Hone et al. isometry hypothesis).

The Hone et al. 2020 paper was announced today on
Dr. Hone’s email list. After a short comparison to Pteranodon, Hone continues:
“However, if we turn to Rhamphorhynchus we have only a fraction of the number of specimens but pretty much all the other issues are absent. They also cover a near order of magnitude in size with everything for animals of c 30 cm wingspan up to nearly 2 metres and include everything from putative hatchling-sized animals to a couple of genuine outliers that are much bigger than other known individuals.”

A good sample of Rhamphorhynchus taxa are shown above (Fig. 1) in phylogenetic order. Note this genus has its genesis as a phylogenetically miniaturized series following Campylognatoides in the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 250 taxa). The sole juvenile shown above is the Vienna specimen, nesting with one of the ‘genuine outliers that are much bigger.’ This adult and juvenile pairing nest together with virtually identical scores, despite the great difference in size.The LPT was able to lump and split all tested Rhamphorhynchus taxa. So it can be done. Hone et al. omitted this all important step and ruined their paper.

Hone continues:
“The numbers of course are not tiny, well over 100 good specimens, and that alone would make them an exceptional sample of most terrestrial Mesozoic archosaurs.”

Our first red flag! Hone et al. do not realize that when taxa are added, pterosaurs move over to lepidosaurs. On another note: relative to ‘100 good specimens’, 31 are shown above (Fig. 1).

Hone explains
that Wellnhofer (1975) featured 108 specimens. Hone’s group looked at 129, but, as Hone confesses, “The ‘real’ total is actually a little lower.” Oddly, in the text of the paper, Hone et al. report testing 135 specimens of R. muensteri.

Hone continues:
“This post inevitably marks the publication of an analysis of growth in Rhamphorhyunchus. In a lot of ways, this mirrors Chris Bennett’s fantastic 1995 paper on this genus where he convincingly demonstrated that all specimens belonged to a single species and not multiple ones as previously thought, and part of his arguments for doing this looked at the relationships between various elements based on Wellhofer’s dataset.”

Our second red flag! Bennett’s 1995 paper likewise did not include a phylogenetic analysis. When several specimens of Pteranodon were added to the LPT, no two nested together as conspecific taxa (Fig. 2). Small specimens were closer to the genesis of Pteranodon following Germanodactylus. Large specimens split into several clades.

Figure 2. The Tanking-Davis specimen compared to other forms. Specimen w and specimen z appear to be the closest to the Tanking-David specimen. Specimen 'w' = Pteranodon sternbergi? USNM 12167 (undescribed). Specimen 'z' = Pteranodon longiceps? Dawndraco? UALVP 24238. Click to enlarge.

Figure 2. The Tanking-Davis specimen compared to other forms. Specimen w and specimen z appear to be the closest to the Tanking-David specimen. Specimen ‘w’ = Pteranodon sternbergi? USNM 12167 (undescribed). Specimen ‘z’ = Pteranodon longiceps? Dawndraco? UALVP 24238. Click to enlarge.

Hone is delighted to announce
“Chris’ point [in Bennett 1993, 1995] was that while there were some discreet clusters of specimens (which he attributed to year classes) most of the alleged differences between the putative species vanished when you put them on a graph and the rest were classic ontogenetic traits like the fusion of the pelvis in large individuals of big eyes in small ones. So while he didn’t really deal with growth as such, he was already showing similar patterns to what I and my coauthors confirm now – Rhamphorhynchus was weirdly isometric in growth.”

Our third red flag! Dr. Hone does not appear to realize that ALL pterosaurs  develop isometrically during ontogeny. They do this because pterosaurs are lepidosaurs. By contrast, archosaurs develop allometrically. I’m also going to throw in the objection that a graph or two (as in Bennett 1993, 1995, Hone et al. 2020] is no substitute for a thorough phylogenetic analysis.

Hone continues:
“In other words, in the case of the vast majority of their anatomy, young animals are basically just scaled down adults.”

This is an odd statement to make considering the fact that Hone et al. are looking at phylogenetically miniaturized adults (Fig. 1) and regarding them as juveniles. That Hone considers the little specimens, “basically carbon copies of the adults” makes one question the precision of their observations. They did cherry-pick two similar taxa (Figs. 3, 4), avoiding the wider variation of other specimens. A competing online analysis (subset Fig. 5) was able to split and lump all Rhamphorhynchus specimens.

For comparison, Hone et al. also looked at ontogeny in bats,
noting hand/wing development accelerated close to sexual maturity (= shortly after weaning). He notes, “This is the pattern we would expect.”

Our fourth red flag! Since Hone et al. have blinded themselves to the possibility that pterosaurs are lepidosaurs (Peters 2007) they don’t look at lepidosaurs for comparison. Here’s why they should: pterosaurs hatch with adult proportions from leathery eggs held within the mother’s body longer than in any archosaur.

Hone continues:
“Birds are functionally poor analogues of pterosaurs but are much closer phylogenetically and are the only other powered flying tetrapod so we also looked at some existing datasets for them too.”

More traditional myth perpetuating here. I find this all so disheartening. Colleagues, just add taxa. If I can do it as an outsider, you can do it as a PhD. Do not be afraid to do the work of constructing a cladogram.

Hone continues:
“If you grow isometrically you wings will get longer and wider but your weight will increase much faster since you as a whole will get longer and wider and deeper. Birds increase penumaticity as they grow and there’s evidence this is the case in other pneumatic clades too and if so for pterosaurs, then the mass increase in adults would also be offset somewhat by a proportionally lower mass in adults for a given volume than juveniles.”

Very good point. But I’m ot sure of any pneumaticity studies comparing hatchling and adult pterosaurs.

Hone continues:
“Precociousness has been suggested in pterosaurs before based on the evidence for them flying while young, but it has also been challenged. It suggested that to be flying at that size would require a huge amount of effort and this would leave little energy for growth.”

Wait a minute! Didn’t he just say the weight would increase by the cube in adults? That means juveniles were that much lighter.

Hone continues:
“That’s largely true, but overlooks that there could be post hatching parental parental care. That is normal for archosaurs (including dinosaurs) and we would expect it for pterosaurs.”

If only pterosaurs were archosaurs, but at this point they still nest with lepidosaurs. Most lepidosaurs fend for themselves after hatching, and if pterosaur hatchlings could fly, then they would be able to fly off on their own shortly after hatching. Best not to ‘expect’ anything without a valid phylogenetic context, evidently lacking in Hone et al. 2020.

Hone continues:
“So in short, Rhamphorhynchus is perhaps the best pterosaur for large studies about populations and growth and this genius at least grew isometrically, and this may or may not be the same for other pterosaurs.”

But for the present, every pterosaur known from embryo, juvenile and adult shows strict isometric growth (except for tapejarid crests).

“But it does imply that young pterosaur could fly, and fly well.”

Sadly, Hone et al. seem to be looking at small adults (Fig. 1) and calling them ‘young’. Of course these adult pterosaurs can fly well!

Apparently Hone et al. are comparing linear measurements and graphing them. That method produced false positives for Bennett 1995. There is no substitute for phylogenetic analysis.

In this topsy-turvy world of pterosaurs,
myths are popularized by PhDs while comprehensive phylogenetic analyses compiled by amateurs are ignored and suppressed. Not sure why this problem is not more widely recognized. For other missteps made by Dr. Hone with regard to pterosaurs, click here or use the keyword ‘Hone’ for that long list.

Moments ago the paper itself arrived.
In my morning email was a message from Dr. Hone: “Attached” along with a PDF of their Rhamphorhynchus paper. Two sets of graphs are present, but only a single figure combining bat allometry and Rhamphorhynchus isometry (isolated in Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Image from the only non-graph figure in Hone et al. 2020. Identification and permission note from that caption. Compare these taxa to those in figures 1 and 4.

Figure 3. Image from the only non-graph figure in Hone et al. 2020. Identification and permission note from that caption. Compare these taxa to those in figures 1 and 4.

Figure 4. Lateral view of Hone et al. 2020 Rhamphorhynchus taxa taken from ReptileEvolution.com (Fig. 1).

Figure 4. Lateral view of Hone et al. 2020 Rhamphorhynchus taxa taken from ReptileEvolution.com (Fig. 1). Hone et al. cherry-picked these two somewhat similar by convergence taxa assuming the smaller one was a juvenile of the other other. Phylogenetic analysis separates these two (see Fig. 1). Note the differences in pedal element proportions.

From the paper:
“We test whether pterosaurs show a similar pattern of rapid forelimb growth during post‐hatching/ontogeny to that of bats and birds, and thus infer when in ontogeny R. muensteri would have become volant.”

Sounds laudable. Let’s see how they do it.

From the paper:
“All Rhamphorhynchus specimens from Bavaria are now considered a single species (Bennett 1995).”

No. That’s why figure 1 was created and a phylogenetic analysis of pterosaurs was run (subset Fig. 5), to see how specimens could be lumped and separated. Like Hone et al., Bennett likewise eschewed the use of phylogenetic analysis. Sadly, Hone et al. adopted without further consideration Bennett’s invalid assumption, rather than testing Rhamphorhynchus with a phylogenetic analysis.

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on Rhamphorhynchus.

Figure 5. Subset of the LRT focusing on Rhamphorhynchus.

From the paper:
“Four lines of evidence suggest that the smallest R. muensteri specimens were very young animals and potentially hatchlings.

  1. Histology reveals incomplete ossification of long bones in the smallest specimens tested (Prondvai et al. 2012),
  2. A disproportionate number of known specimens are small, consistent with high juvenile mortality (Bennett 1995; Hone & Henderson 2014)
  3. Late‐stage embryos of pterosaurs had well‐developed, ossified wings (Wang & Zhou 2004; Codorniú et al. 2018)
  4. and finally while few fossilized pterosaur embryos are known, the ratio by which adults are larger than embryos (Lü et al. 2011; Wang et al. 2017) is similar to the size ratio between the largest R. muensteri specimens and the smallest.”

Incomplete ossification: the smallest specimen studied by Prondvai et al. (2012) was BSPG 1960 I 470a = n9 (Figs. 1, 5) is also the second most primitive tested specimen (next to n28) in a phylogenetic miniaturization series that began with Campylognathoides. Among the neotonous / juvenile traits retained was incomplete ossification of the long bones. Lacking a phylogenetic context, neither Prondvai et al. nor Hone et al. were aware of the miniaturized adult status of n9.

Figure 5. the B St 1960 I 4709A specimen of Rhamphorhynchus is the first and one of the smallest phylogenetically miniaturized specimens.

Figure 5. the B St 1960 I 470a specimen of Rhamphorhynchus (at right)  is the second most primitive and one of the smallest phylogenetically miniaturized specimens attributed to Rhamphorhynchus. One of the neotonous traits was incomplete ossification. Hatchlings were 1/8x the size of adults, similar to house flies in size.

Disproportionate number of specimens are small: lacking a phylogenetic context, Hone et al. were not aware of the phylogenetic miniaturization that preceded the evolution of larger Rhamphorhynchus specimens. In the LPT only one Rhamphorhynchus specimen is a valid juvenile nesting with larger adults.

Late‐stage embryos of other pterosaurs had well‐developed, ossified wings: So did miniaturized adults.

Size ratio of largest R. muensteri specimens to smallest similar to embryo vs adult sizes in other pterosaurs: lacking a phylogenetic context, Hone et al. were not aware of the phylogenetic miniaturization that preceded the evolution of larger Rhamphorhynchus specimens. Hone et al. made the mistake of labeling small adults as juveniles. Notably, Hone et al. did not try to match their purported juveniles with adults phylogenetically. Other tiny Rhamphorhynchus specimens have juvenilized proportions (smaller rostrum, larger orbit), but these were ignored by Hone et al., who cherry-picked two comparative taxa out of 135.

From the paper:
“We tested for isometric versus allometric growth across 135 specimens of R. muensteri using bone length and composite measures (e.g. total wing length and total leg length) relative to: (1) total body length, from rostrum tip to the end of the tail; (2) skull length; and (3) humerus length.”

Lacking a phylogenetic context (available online for several years), Hone et al. made the mistake of comparing adults to adults. No juveniles were tested. Subsequent comparisons to birds and bats were thus rendered moot.

From the paper:
“Our results suggest that even the smallest Rhamphorhynchus had adult skeletal proportions and thus wings sufficient for flight.” This confirms the conclusions of Peters (2018) using a phylogenetically validated juvenile Rhamphorhynchus, rather than a dataset full of large and small adults.

From the paper:
“Wang et al. (2017) noted that in embryos of the pterodactyloid Hamipterus, although there was greater ossification of the limbs and vertebrae than the head, including of the shafts of longbones, there was limited ossification of some other parts of the skeleton that may have related to flight. They hypothesize in this case that hatchlings may have been able to walk before they could fly, though still imply relatively early flight for these animals.”

These were not hatchlings, but embryos still developing within the egg, within the mother in the tradition of lepidosaurs.  Eruptive gases killed flocks en masse. Details here.

From the paper:
“Pterosaurs, like almost all other archosaurs, probably provided parental care (Witton 2013), and precocial flight need not preclude this possibility.” 

This is myth. We’ve known since Peters 2007 that adding taxa moves pterosaurs to nest within Lepidosauria.

From the paper:
“Thus, while Rhamphorhynchus apparently flew at a young age, such volant offspring may have plausibly received parental care, including provisioned food, as they became independent foragers.” 

There is no evidence for this bit of speculation. But it cannot be ruled out. According to Gans 1996, “Many aspects of reptilian reproductive patterns prove to be vagile among the vertebrates. Reversals complicate, and may even invalidate, the characterization of broad trends. Furthermore, the 7000 species of reptiles show dozens of modes that seem to enhance the fitness of their offspring, thereby providing a vast opportunity of testing the reality of these adaptations.”  (‘vagile’ = able or tending to move from place to place or disperse)

In summary:
Hone et al. assumed that phylogenetically miniaturized adults at the genesis of Rhamphorhynchus were juveniles. While testing small adults against large adults (Figs. 1–5) the authors determined that Rhamphorhynchus ontogeny proceeded isometrically.

Ironically this confirms earlier findings by Peters (2018 and elsewhere in this blog) using the only known phylogenetically validated juvenile and a matching adult Rhamphorhynchus. As longtime readers know, all other pterosaurs develop isometrically because they are lepidosaurs arising from taxa close to late-surviving Huehuecuetzpalli, known from matching juvenile and adult specimens.

Dr. Hone needs to show more leadership. He needs to create reconstructions of the specimens under study so visual comparisons can be made by his team and readers. Roadkill specimens are too difficult to compare otherwise. He also needs to run a phylogenetic analysis to determine interrelationships between pterosaur taxa and within all amniotes to see where pterosaurs nest. At present he’s perpetuating old myths and traditions that were invalidated twenty years. He’s that far behind the times.

I’ll never forget the day several decades ago
when Dr. Kevin Padian and Dr. Chris Bennett told me, “nothing can be known about a taxon until it is put into a phylogenetic context.” I took that advice to heart. That is why the LRT and LPT now include more than 2000 taxa.


References
Bennett SC 1993. The ontogeny of Pteranodon and other pterosaurs. Paleobiolgy 19(1):92-106.
Bennett SC 1995. A statistical study of Rhamphorhynchus from the Solnhofen Limestone of Germany: Year-classes of a single large species. Journal of Paleontology 69:569-580.
Gans C 1996. An overview of parental care among the Reptilia. Advances in the Study of Behaviour 25:145–157.
Hone DWE, Ratcliffe JM, Riskin DK, Hemanson JW and Reisz RR 2020. Unique near isometric ontogeny in the pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus suggests hatchlings could fly. Lethaia. Paywall access here.
Hone 2020. Email post. How to grow your dragon – pterosaur onotgeny [sp]
Peters D 2007. The origin and radiation of the Pterosauria. In D. Hone ed. Flugsaurier. The Wellnhofer pterosaur meeting, 2007, Munich, Germany. p. 27.
Peters D 2018. First juvenile Rhamphorhynchus recovered by phylogenetic analysis. PDF here.
Prondvai E, Stein K, Ösi A, Sander MP 2012. Life History of Rhamphorhynchus Inferred from Bone Histology and the Diversity of Pterosaurian Growth Strategies. PlosOne. online pdf
Wellnhofer P 1975a-c. Teil I. Die Rhamphorhynchoidea (Pterosauria) der Oberjura-Plattenkalke Süddeutschlands. Allgemeine Skelettmorphologie. Paleontographica A 148: 1-33. Teil II. Systematische Beschreibung. Paleontographica A 148: 132-186. Teil III. Paläokolgie und Stammesgeschichte. Palaeontographica 149:1-30.

wiki/Rhamphorhynchus

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/not-another-rhamphorhynchus-growth-series-without-a-phylogenetic-analysis/

 

Sallen 2016 presents a fascinating flawed look at fish tails

Sallen 2016 reports,
“The symmetrical, flexible teleost fish ‘tail’ has been a prime example of recapitulation — evolutionary change(phylogeny) mirrored in development (ontogeny).”

Sallan’s cladogram (Fig. 1) lays out the traditional cladogram of fish. Note the position of the bichir (Polypterus), at a basal node and the sturgeon + paddlefish (Acipcenser + Polyodon) near the middle.

Figure 1. Cladogram from Sallan 2016 (above) and young fish tails (below).

Figure 1. Cladogram from Sallan 2016 (above) and young fish tails (below).

Unfortunately,
taxon exclusion mars the cladogram of Sallan 2016 according to the the large reptile tree (LRT, 1704+ taxa; Figs. 2, 5). Due to tradition Sallan has chosen the wrong outgroup. Jawless sturgeons and shark-like paddlefish should be the outgroups here, not lungfish-like bichirs (Polypterus), which are highly derived taxa close to lungfish and tetrapods.

Figure 2. Same taxa as above, but rearranged to fit the LRT tree topology.

Figure 2. Same taxa as above, but rearranged to fit the LRT tree topology. Remember, sturgeons, paddlefish and sharks are basal taxa in the LRT. Esox is a catfish related to placoderms.

Salan reports,
“Paleozoic ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii), relatives of teleosts, exhibited ancestral scale-coveredtails curved over their caudal fins. For over 150 years, this arrangement was thought to be retained in teleost larva and overgrown, mirroring an ancestral transformation series. New ontogenetic data for the 350-million-year-old teleost relative Aetheretmon overturns this long-held hypothesis.”

By contrast,
in the LRT Aetheretmon nests with Pteronsculus (Figs. 5–7)) far from the base of all bony fish, much closer to lobefin fish and tetrapods.

The Sallan point is still made:
Many fish tails do have two parts, especially when hatchlings.

Unfortunately, Sallan does not understand
the topology of the family tree of fish due to taxon exclusion. This is something the LRT minimizes by testing a wider gamut of taxa. As readers know, we see this same taxon exclusion problem all the time in paleontology.

Figure 2. Muskie (Esox) tail ontogeny from Sallan 2016 (middle row). Top row and photo added here.

Figure 3. Muskie (Esox) tail ontogeny from Sallan 2016 (middle row). Top row (to scale) and photo (below) added here. You might remember, Esox is a derived catfish without barbels.

Salan writes,
These two tails appear at a shared developmental stage in Aetheretmon, (Fig. 4) teleosts and all living actinopterygians. Ontogeny does not recapitulate phylogeny; instead, differential outgrowth determines final morphology.”

That appears to be so, but it still needs a valid tree topology.

Figure 3. Fish tail ontogeny in extinct Aetheretmon and extant Monotrete. Note the upper and lower lobes.

Figure 4. Fish tail ontogeny in extinct Aetheretmon and extant Monotrete. Note the upper and lower lobes. In the LRT these two fish are not closely related. Aetheretmon is basal to lobefins. Monotrete is a puffer fish.

Salan speculates:
“The double tail likely reflects the ancestral state for bony fishes.”

No, the ancestral state for bony fish is the heterocercal tail documented by sturgeons and whale sharks, and this goes back to armored osteostracans according to the LRT (Fig. 5).

Figure x. Subset of the LRT, focusing on fish for July 2020.

Figure x. Subset of the LRT, focusing on fish for July 2020.

Salan speculates,
“Many tetrapods and non-teleost actinopterygians have undergone body elongation through tail outgrowth extension, by mechanisms likely shared with distal limbs.”

Not sure what those ‘mechanisms’ would be, but basal tetrapods and stem tetrapods in the LRT have relatively short, straight tails and elongated bodies with great distances between the fore and hind limbs. Look at Panderichthys.

Figure 5. Aetheretmon is known from the oldest complete growth series for vertebrates.

Figure 6. Aetheretmon is known from the oldest complete growth series for vertebrates.

Figure 6. Pteronisculus, a sister to Aetheretmon in the LRT.

Figure 7. Pteronisculus, a Triassic sister to Early Carboniferous Aetheretmon in the LRT and it is easy to see why.

Sallan is ‘Pulling a Larry Martin’
by putting too much emphasis on one trait without testing all the traits on many more taxa. Only after a valid phylogenetic context is established can one begin to figure out if trait A came before trait B or not.

Sallan goes into great detail describing
the successive stages of growth in Aetheretmon, but this is problematic because the cladogram is invalid. “First things first” is a motto all paleontologists should ascribe to. First get the phylogeny correct. Fish workers are relying on an invalid family tree. The LRT is here to fix that.

Its worth remembering,
many fish on the other branch of bony fish (perch, anglers, etc., Fig. 5, orange right column) bring the pelvic fins beneath the pectoral fins, shortening the gut cavity and elongating the tail to extremes in some cases (oarfish). This is all distinct from the longer torso, shorter tail trend in the stem tetrapod branch of bony fishes (Fig. 5, yellow left column).


References
Sallan 2016. Fish ‘tails’ result from outgrowth and reduction of two separate ancestral
tails. Current Biology 26, R1205–R1225.
White EI 1927. The fish fauna of the Cementstones of Foulden, Berwickshire. Transactions of the Royal Society Edinburgh 55:255–287.

https://www.the-scientist.com/the-nutshell/a-tale-of-two-tails-32394

Former Gracilisuchus specimens: now closer to Trialestes

Over the last several weeks
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1660+ taxa, subset Fig. 1) was updated once again with a focus on the Crocodylomorpha. Two congeneric taxa known from a few scraps were eliminated. More insightful identification of skull bones (Figs. 1, 5) settled old issues. Over the next several posts some of the newly recovered hypothetical interrelationships will be presented for review.

We’ll start here
with a new nesting in the LRT (subset Fig. 1) for the small specimens (MCZ4116 and MCZ4118, Fig. 2) formerly assigned to Gracilisuchus (Figs. 4, 5). Now they nest either as hatchling Trialestes (Fig. 3), or, just as likely, as phylogenetically miniaturized Middle Triassic predecessors to the much larger and highly derived Late Triassic basal crocodylomorph, Trialestes. In either case, now Trialestes and its tiny doppelgänger nest together in the LRT, closer to each other than either is to any other taxon, despite a magnitude or two difference in size (Fig. 3). Gracilisuchus nests several nodes away in the next clade (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on the Crocodylomorpha, dorsal scutes, elongate proximal carpals, bipedality and clades.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on the Crocodylomorpha, dorsal scutes, elongate proximal carpals, bipedality and clades. Images changes every 5 seconds.

Hatchling? Trialestes? (MCZ 4116, MCZ 4118, originally Gracilisuchus, Brinkman 1981; Middle Triassic; Fig. 2). These two specimens have a taller, narrow skull than Gracilisuchus (Figs. 4, 5) and a long list of other distinct traits and proportions that nest them with the very much larger Trialestes (Fig. 3) in the LRT (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The former Gracilisuchus specimens MCZ4116 and MCZ4118 with colors added.

Figure 2. The former Gracilisuchus specimens MCZ4116 and MCZ4118 (Middle Triassic) with colors added.

Trialestes romeri (Bonaparte 1982Triassolestes (Reig, 1963/Tillyard 1918) Carnian, Late Triassic ~235 mya) is known from scattered parts here reconstructed and restored (Fig. 3). Clark, Sues and Berman (2000) redescribed the known parts and admitted the possibility that this taxon combined dinosaurian and crocodylomorph characters.

Figure 2. Trialestes reconstructed. At upper left is MCZ4116 to scale.

Figure 3. Trialestes (Late Triassic)  reconstructed. At upper left is MCZ4116 to scale.

Quadrupedal Trialestes
is indeed different than most basal bipedal crocodylomorphs (see Pseudhesperosuchus), but it has elongate proximal carpals (Fig. 3) and a long list of other croc clade traits. The elongate ilium is typical of bipedal taxa indicating a bipedal ancestry. Additional sacrals that would have filled out the sacral set between the ilia (Fig. 3) are not known, but likely were present.

Figure 4. Present reconstruction of Gracilisuchus with skull based on Romer 1971. See figure 4 for an updated on that skull.

Figure 4. Present reconstruction of Gracilisuchus with skull based on Romer 1971. See figure 4 for an updated on that skull.

In Trialestes
the vertebral centra had excavated lateral surfaces, for bird-like air sacs. The radius was longer than the humerus, a character otherwise known only in dinosaurs. The long radiale was slightly shorter than the ulnare. The fingers were tiny, another indicator of a bipedal ancestry. The pelvis was semi-perforated with a well-developed supraacetabular crest, as in basal dinosaurs. The femoral head was inturned, indicating an erect posture. The ankle joint had a crocodile normal configuration and a functionally pentadactyl pes.

Figure 5. Gracilisuchus skull updated with new colors.

Figure 5. Gracilisuchus (Middle Triassic) skull updated with new colors. Compare to figure 2.

The MCZ 4116 and MCZ 4118 specimens 
are coeval with Gracilisuchus in the Middle Triassic and similar in size, but share more traits in the LRT with highly derived Late Triassic Trialestes. As we’ve seen before, new morphologies often express their genesis in phylogenetically miniaturized taxa. That may be the case with the MCZ specimens, appearing millions of years before the much larger Trialestes. More discoveries, like an adult Trialestes in the Middle Triassic, will someday settle this ontogenetic and phylogenetic issue. This blogpost is where this issue starts. If this is not a novel hypothesis of interrelationships, let me know so I can promote the older citation.

Updates have been a continuing feature
of the LRT since its origin nine years ago, along with the steady addition of taxa to the present total of 1658 taxa, plus several hundred taxa in the pterosaur and therapsid cladograms. Correcting mistakes is standard practice in every science and every correction is another rewarding moment of discovery. Holding on to outdated and invalid hypotheses has been an acknowledged problem in paleontology.


References
Bonaparte JF 1982. Classification of the Thecodontia. Geobios Mem. Spec. 6, 99-112
Brinkman D 1981. The origin of the crocodiloid tarsi and the interrelationships of thecodontian archosaurs. Breviora 464: 1–23.
Clark JM, Sues H-D and Berman DS 2000. A new specimen of Hesperosuchus agilis from the Upper Triassic of New Mexico and the interrelationships of basal crocodylomorph archosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 20(4):683-704.
deFranca MAG, Bittencourt JdS and Langer MC 2013. Reavaliação taxonomica de Barberenasuchus brasiliensis (Archosauriformes), Ladiniado do Rio Grande do Sul (Zona-Assembleia de Dinodontosaurus). Palaenotogia em Destaque Edição Especial Octubro 2013: 230.
Irmis RB, Nesbitt SJ and Sues H-D 2013. Early Crocodylomorpha. Pp. 275–302 in Nesbitt, Desojo and Irmis (eds). Anatomy, phylogeny and palaeobiology of early archosaurs and their kin. The Geological Society of London. doi:10.1144/SP379.24.
Kischlat EE 2000. Tecodôncios: a aurora dos arcossáurios no Triássico. Pp. 273–316 in Holz and De Ros (eds.). Paleontologia do Rio Grande do Sul. Porto Alegre: CIGO/UFRGS.
Lecuona A, Ezcurra MD and Irmis RB 2016. Revision of the early crocodylomorph Trialestes romeri (Archosauria, Suchia) from the lower Upper Triassic Ischigualasto Formation of Argentina: one of the oldest-known crocodylomorphs. Papers in Palaeontology (advance online publication). DOI: 10.1002/spp2.1056
Reig, OA 1963. La presencia de dinosaurios saurisquios en los “Estratos de Ischigualasto” (Mesotriásico Superior) de las provincias de San Juan y La Rioja (República Argentina). Ameghiniana 3: 3-20.
Riff D et al. 2012. Crocodilomorfos: a maior diversidade de répteis fósseis do Brasil. TERRÆ 9: 12-40, 2012.
Zanno LE, Drymala S, Nesbitt SJ and Schneider VP 2015. Early Crocodylomorph increases top tier predator diversity during rise of dinosaurs. Scientific Reports 5:9276 DOI: 10.1038/srep09276.

wiki/Trialestes

Was Vellbergia really a juvenile basal lepidosaur? Let’s check…

Earlier we looked at tiny Vellbergia
(Sobral, Simoes and Schoch 2020; Middle Triassic) represented by a disarticulated tiny skull (Fig. 1). The large reptile tree (LRT) nested this hatchling with the much larger adult Prolacerta (Fig. 1). The MPT was 20263 steps for 1654 taxa.

The LRT nesting ran counter to the SuppData cladogram
of Sobral, Simoes and Schoch 2020, who nested Vellbergia among basal lepidosaurs, the closest of which are shown here (Fig. 1). Earlier I did not show the competing lepidosaur candidates. That was an oversight rectified today.

Figure 1. Vellbegia compared to the lepidosaurs it would nest with if Prolacerta and all Archosauromorpha were deleted.

Figure 1. Vellbegia compared to the lepidosaurs it would nest with if Prolacerta and all Archosauromorpha were deleted. Gray areas on Vellbergia indicate restored bone that is lost in the fossil.

To test the lepidosaur hypothesis of relationships,
I deleted all Archosauromorph taxa, including Prolacerta, from the LRT to see where among the Lepidosauromorpha Vellbergia would nest. With no loss of resolution, Vellbergia nested between Palaegama and Tjubina + Huehuecuetzpalli at the base of the Tritosauria plus Fraxinisaura + Lacertulus (Fig. 1) at the base of the Protosquamata. The resulting MPT was 20276 steps, only 13 more than the Prolacerta hypothesis of interrelationships.

That is a remarkably small number considering the great phylogenetic distance between these taxa in the LRT.

Rampant convergence
is readily visible among the competing taxa (Fig. 1). No wonder Prolacerta was named “before Lacerta“, the extant squamate. According to Wikipedia, “Due to its small size and lizard-like appearance, Parrington (1935) subsequently placed Prolacerta between basal younginids and modern lizards. In the 1970s (Gow 1975) the close link between Prolacerta and crown archosaurs was first hypothesized.” That was prior to cladistic software and suffered from massive taxon exclusion.

Allometry vs. Isometry
One of the lepidosaurs shown above, Huehuecuetzpalli (Fig. 1), is known from both an adult and juvenile. The older and younger specimens were originally (Reynoso 1998) considered identical in proportion. Such isometry is an ontogenetic trait shared with other tritosaur lepidosaur clade members, including pterosaurs. On the other hand, if Vellbergia was a hatchling of Prolacerta, some measure of typical archosauromorph allometry should be readily apparent… and it is… including incomplete ossification of the nasals, frontals and parietals along with a relatively larger orbit and shorter rostrum, giving Vellbergia a traditional ‘cute’ appearance appropriate for its clade.

Size
Sobral, Simoes and Schoch considered Vellbergia a juvenile, but it is similar in size to the adult lepidosaurs shown here (Fig. 1). On the other hand, Vellbergia is appropriately smaller than Prolacerta, in line with its hatchling status.

Time
Remember also that Vellbergia is from the Middle Triassic. Prolacerta is from the Early Triassic. They were not found together and some differences are to be expected just from the millions of years separating them.

For comparison: another juvenile Prolacerta,
this time from Early Triassic Antarctica (Spiekman 2018; AMNH 9520), is much larger than Vellbergia from Middle Triassic Germany (Fig. 2), but just as cute. Note the relatively larger orbit and shorter rostrum compared to the adult Prolacerta (Fig. 1), traits likewise found in Vellbergia.

Figure 2. Small Prolacerta specimen AMNH 9520 from Spiekman 2018 compared to scale with Vellbergia.

Figure 2. Small Prolacerta specimen AMNH 9520 from Spiekman 2018 compared to scale with Vellbergia. Sclerotic rings (SCL) identified by Spiekman 2018 are re-identified as pterygoids here.

Generally
crushed, disarticulated and incomplete juvenile specimens of allometric taxa are difficult to compare with adults. Even so, what is left of hatchling Vellbergia tends to resemble the larger juvenile and adult specimens of Prolacerta more than hatchling Vellbergia resembles the similarly-sized adult lepidosaurs it nests with in the absence of Prolacerta from the taxon list.

Phylogenetic analysis is an inexact science.
Nevertheless no other known method breaks down and rebuilds thousands of taxa more precisely. Only taxon exclusion appears to trip up workers at present.


References
Gow CE 1975. The morphology and relationships of Youngina capensis Broom and Prolacerta broomi Parrington. Palaeontologia Africana, 18:89-131.
Parrington FR 1935. On Prolacerta broomi gen. et sp. nov. and the origin of lizards. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 16, 197–205.
Reynoso V-H 1998. Huehuecuetzpalli mixtecus gen. et sp. nov: a basal squamate (Reptilia) from the Early Cretaceous of Tepexi de Rodríguez, Central México. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London B 353:477-500.
Sobral G, Simoes TR and Schoch RR 2020. A tiny new Middle Triassic stem-lepidosauromorph from Germany: implications fro the early evolution of lepidosauromorphs and the Vellberg fauna. Nature.com Scientific Reports 10, Article number: 2273.
Spiekman SNF 2018. A new specimen of Prolacerta broomi from the lower Fremouw Formation (Early Triassic) of Antarctica, its biogeographical implications and a taxonomic revision. Nature.com/scientificreports (2018)8:17996

wiki/Prolacerta

A baby paddlefish enters the LRT looking like a baby shark

Earlier the primitive paddlefish
(Polyodonentered the large reptile tree (LRT, 1634+ taxa) as the basalmost bony fish, distinct from and not related to traditional chondrostean relatives like the sturgeon (Psuedoschaphorhynchus), the bichir (Polypterus), and the extinct ‘chondrostean’ Chondrosteus.

Figure 4. Skull of Polyodon from a diagram published in Gregory 1938, plus a dorsal view and lateral photo.

Figure 4. Skull of Polyodon from a diagram published in Gregory 1938, plus a dorsal view and lateral photo.

Today, a baby paddlefish,
lacking a long paddle bill (Fig. 2), enters the LRT. Why? Because the paddle bill of the adult stands out as an autapomorphic trait in the cladogram, and I’m looking for plesiomorphic transitional taxa that link clades together.  The short-snouted baby paddlefish (Fig. 2), looking just like a baby shark, but with an operculum, had the potential to do exactly that.

Figure 2. A shark-like juvenile paddlefish (Polyodon) has teeth and lacks a paddle-snout. Compare to the adult in figure 1.

Figure 2. A shark-like juvenile paddlefish (Polyodon) has teeth and lacks a paddle-snout. Compare to the adult in figure 1. Legnth = 2.9cm. or slightly longer than one inch. Images from Grande and Bemis 1991, The pterygoid appears here for the first time.

Despite the lack of an elongate rostrum
and the score changes that brings, the baby and adult Polyodon nest together in the LRT.

Figure 2. Falcatus traced with DGS methods with reconstructed freehand image applied from xxx.

Figure 3. Falcatus nests at the base of the shark clade, not far from baby Polyodon. Note the same underslung jaw loosely connected to the cranium + rostrum.

If ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
in Polyodon, then the baby provides insight into the plesiomorphic morphology of a basalmost bony fish taxon, not far from a basalmost and transitional shark-clade taxa. That dichotomy likely extends back to the Late Silurian or Early Devonian. Thus, this long-sought and previously elusive mystery taxon might be best represented by a baby paddlefish. That means it was  under our nose all along!

BTW
in the ‘old’ days, Polyodon used to be called the ‘paddle-bill catfish.’ Not sure when the common name change took place.


References
Grande L and Bemis WE 1991. Osteology and phylogenetic relationships of fossil and Recent paddlefishes (Polyodontidae) with comments on the interrelationships of Acipenseriformes. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir 1. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 11, Supplement to Number 1. 121pp.
Walbaum J 1792. Petri Artedi renovati. Part 3. Petri Artedi sueci genera Piscium in quibus systema totum ichthyologiae proponitur cum classibus, ordinibus, generum characteribus, specierum diffentiis, observationibus plumiris. Redactis Speciebus 2. Ichthyologiae, III: 723.

wiki/Polyodon

Flugsaurier 2018: ‘Young istiodactylid’ nests with tall pterodactylids in the LPT

Flugsaurier 2018 opens today, August 10,
and the abstract booklet is out. So it’s time to take a look at some of the news coming out of that Los Angeles pterosaur symposium. Since the purpose of the symposium is increase understanding of pterosaurs, I hope this small contribution helps.

Figure 1. The Erlianhaote specimen attributed by Hone and Xu 2018 to istiodactylidae nests in the LPT with the large derived pterodactylids.

Figure 1. The Erlianhaote specimen attributed by Hone and Xu 2018 to the clade Istiodactylidae (within Ornithocheiridae) nests in the LPT with the large derived pterodactylids. Note the un-warped deltopectoral crest and lack of a deep cristospine, along with the long legs and short wings.

Hone and Xu at Flugsaurier 2018
describe, “An unusual and nearly complete young istiodactylid from the Yixian Formation, China (Fig. 1). The specimen shows the characteristic istiodactylid cranial features of tooth shape and enlarged nasoantorbital fenestra. However, it has proportionally large hindlimbs and wing proportions that are similar to those of azhdarchids. This has led to suggestion that the specimen may be a composite and that only the cranial material is istiodactylid. Preparation work around some key parts revealed no inconsistencies in the matrix or evidence of glue. The specimen is held in the Erlianhaote Dinosaur Museum, Erlianhote, China.”

Figure 2. The Erlianhaote specimen nests with these pterodactylids in the LPT, not with Istiodactylus (Fig. 3). Compare to valid istiodactylids in figures 4–6/

Figure 2. The Erlianhaote specimen nests with these pterodactylids in the LPT, not with Istiodactylus (Fig. 3). Compare to valid istiodactylids in figures 4–6/

Reconstructed as is
(Fig. 2) and added to the large pterosaur tree (LPT, 233 taxa, not yet updated due to no museum number nor genus name) the young ‘istiodactylid’ nests as a large derived pterodactylid. 13 steps separate this taxon from the Istiodactylus clade.

Ornithocheirids,
like Istiodactylus (Figs. 3, 4) and the SMNL PAL 1136 specimen (Fig. 5), share a very large wing finger, a short metacarpus, a warped deltopectoral crest, small free fingers and deeply keeled sternal complex not found in the Erlianhote specimen.

Figure 3. Istiodactylus has a shorter neck, longer wing finger and deep cristospine, among other traits not found in the new Erlianhaote specimen.

Figure 3. Istiodactylus has a shorter neck, longer wing finger and deep cristospine, among other traits not found in the new Erlianhaote specimen.

Figure 4. Istiodactylus sinensis is an istiodactylid from China sharing few traits with the new Erlianhaote specimen. Note the warped deltopectoral crest not warped in the new specimen.

Figure 4. Istiodactylus sinensis is an istiodactylid from China sharing few traits with the new Erlianhaote specimen. Note the warped deltopectoral crest not warped in the new specimen. Manual 4.1 is shorter than in other well-known istiodactylids.

The largest ornithocheirid

Figure 5. The unnamed largest ornithocheirid, SMNK PAL 1136, nests with Istiodactylus.

Figure 6. The Erlianhaote pterodactylid reconstructed in several views.

Figure 6. The Erlianhaote pterodactylid reconstructed in several views. The imagined (gray) areas of the skull here were imagined as an istiodactylid, but the better restoration is shown in figure 2.

It’s better not to eyeball certain specimens.
Sometimes you have to run them through a phylogenetic analysis to find out what they are. That’s what the LPT is for. It minimizes taxon exclusion and handles convergence.

Pterosaurs are still lepidosaurs.
So they follow lepidosaur fusion patterns, which follow phylogeny. Hone and Xu made the mistake of imagining pterosaurs might have archosaur fusion patterns that follow ontogeny.

Why am I not at Flugsaurier 2018?
In addition to about a dozen reasons that I can list later, or your can guess now, I can be more helpful and timely here.

References
Andres B and Ji Q 2006. A new species of Istiodactylus (Pterosauria, Pterodactyloidea) from the Lower Cretaceous of Liaoning, China. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 26: 70-78.
Bowerbank JS 1846. On a new species of pterodactyl found in the Upper Chalk of Kent P. giganteus). Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 2: 7–9.
Bowerbank JS 1851. On the pterodactyles of the Chalk Formation. Proceedings of the Zoological Society, London, pp. 14–20 and Annals of the Magazine of Natural History (2) 10: 372–378.
Bowerbank JS 1852. On the pterodactyles of the Chalk Formation. Reports from the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1851): 55.
Hone DWE and Xu 2018. An unusual and nearly complete young istiodactylid from the Yixian Formation, China. Flugsaurier 2018: the 6th International Symposium on Pterosaurs. Los Angeles, USA. Abstracts: 53–56.
Hooley RW 1913. On the skeleton of Ornithodesmus latidens. An ornithosaur from the Wealden shales of Atherfield (Isle of Wight)”, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 69: 372-421
Howse SCB, Milner AR and Martill DM 2001. Pterosaurs. Pp. 324-335 in: Martill, D. M. and Naish, D., eds. Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight, The Palaeontological Association
Wang X, Rodrigues T, Jiang S, Cheng X and Kellner AWA 2014. An Early Cretaceous pterosaur with an unusual mandibular crest from China and a potential novel feeding strategy. Scientific Reports 4 : 6329, pp. 1-9. | DOI: 10.1038/srep06329
Witton MP 2012. New Insights into the Skull of Istiodactylus latidens (Ornithocheiroidea, Pterodactyloidea). PLoS ONE 7(3): e33170. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033170

wiki/Istiodactylus