Today I have a quandary…
Is Scoloparia a procolophonid or a pareiasaur? I’ve looked at it both ways (Figs. 1, 2). It nests both ways (depending on the restoration), and at least one way is wrong.
This problem highlights more basic problems
found within the Procolophonidae, some of which nest in the large reptile tree (still not updated) with diadectids (Procolophon and kin, Fig. 1), with pareiasaurs (Sclerosaurus) and the rest nest as pre-Lepidosauriformes (Owenetta and kin). Conventionally procolophonids are considered parareptiles. Cisneros lists Nyctiphruretus as the outgroup and owenettids as basal taxa within the Procolophonidae. The large reptile tree replicated that outgroup only for the owenettids.
Scoloparia glyphanodon (Sues and Baird 1998) is currently represented by several specimens, three of which are figured, colorized and restored here (Figs. 1, 2). All three differ in size. Comparable skulls differ in morphology. This has been attributed to ontogeny.
Figure 1. Scoloparia restored here as a procolophonid together with other procolophonids. Click to enlarge. The large YPM mandible is a definite procolophonid. The small 82.1 specimen is a definite procolophonid. The holotype is the big question mark.
Clearly the referred specimens
(the dentary and the small 82.1 specimen) are procolophonids. Only seven blunt and rotated teeth in a mandible that tips down anteriorly along with gigantic orbits mark these taxa as procolophonids. They compare well with other procolorphonids.
Figure 2. Scoloparia restored as a pareiasaur close to Elginia along with several other pareiasaurs for comparison. Sclerosaurus typically nests as a procolophonid, but even with the removal of all skull traits, it nests as a small pareiasaur. The new restoration reidentifies several bones. Note the convergence with the procolophonids in figure 1.
The problem is in the large holotype
The 83.1 specimen holotype of Scoloparia was preserved without a skull roof or palate, so the nasals, frontals and parietals are restored here.
the size and morphological differences were attributed to the juvenile status of the smaller specimen. H. Sues wrote to me, “Both specimens have the same peculiar ‘cheek’ teeth, which are unlike those of any other procolophonid.”
I think what Dr. Sues means is shown below in figure 3. The teeth of the referred specimen attributed to Scoloparia have multiple cusps, unlike most procolophonids, but approaching the serrated morphology of pareiasaurs. The convergences are mounting!! And now you see why this is a quandary!
Figure 3. Teeth compared. Elginia, Scolaparia (referred), Leptopleuron and Diadectes, a stem procolophonid. Oddly the very procolophonid Scoloparia (referred specimen) does have peculiar teeth for a procolophonid. They are serrated somewhat like those in the pareiasaur, Elginia.
I have asked to see images of the teeth for the Scoloparia holotype. No reply yet.
The mystery of the holotype
Teeth were not illustrated by Sues and Baird for the holotype 83.1 specimen, who reported the mandible was articulated. The authors described two premaxillary, six maxillary and eight dentary teeth. That low number of teeth point toward a procolophonid ancestry. The upper anterior four teeth are described as incisiform with bluntly conical crowns that are rounded in cross section. The first premaxillary tooth is reported to be much larger than the other teeth. A large medial pmx tooth also points toward a procolophonid ancestry, as we’ve already seen with Colobomycter. In Elginia (Fig. 3) the many small teeth are slightly constricted at the base and serrated at the crown as in other pareiasaurs.
Figure 4. Elginia colorized in four views. Note the rotation of the tabulars to the dorsal skull. Click to enlarge. Note the many similarities to the pareiasaur-like restoration of Scoloparia.
Sues and Baird noted “nuchal (neck) osteoderms” preserved posterior to the skull in the 83.1 holotype of Scoloparia. Cisneros (2008) reports osteoderms have only been found in Sclerosaurus and Scoloparia. Since Sclerosaurus nests here as a pareiasaur, that means no other procolophonids have osteoderms. Hmmm.
Reversals in the skull roof of pareiasaurs
In the large reptile tree pareiasaurus are sisters to turtles (all derived from Stephanospondhylus) and bolosaurids, all derived from Milleretta. In Stephanospondylus (Fig 5) a reversal takes place in which the postparietals (or are they tabulars?) rotate to the dorsal surface of the skull and the supratemporals develop small horns. These traits usually appear on pre-amniotes.
Figure 5. Stephanospondylus skull in two views. Note the rotation of the post parietals to the dorsal skull along with the transformation of the supratemporals into small horns.
This dorsalization of the tabulars
becomes even more apparent in pareiasaurs (Fig. 2) and Elginia (Fig. 4). If the purported nuchals of Scoloparia are actually large supratemporals, tabulars, and opisthotics, then it’s a pareiasaur. If so, a foramen magnum is also present topped by a supraoccipital and two flanking exoccipitals. What a quandary!
Not quite enough to go on
I am working from a 2D line drawing here (from Sues and Baird 1998), not a photograph. So I await images of the teeth and any other data that may come down the pike. If new data ever comes in, I will let you know. For now, can’t tell if we’re dealing with autapomorphic nuchal osteoderms on a procolophonid or dorsalized tabulars and an occiput on a pareiasaur.
Cisneros JC 2008. Phylogenetic relationships of procolophonid parareptiles with remarks on their geological record. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology): 345–366.
Sues HD and Baird D 1998. Procolophonidae (Reptilia: Parareptilia) from the Upper Triassic Wolfville Formation of Nova Scotia, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 18:525-532.