SVP 5 – Triassic pterosaur from Utah

Britt et al. (2105) found a Late Triassic pterosaur in Utah, described in the following SVP abstract.

From the abstract:
“We previously reported on a wealth of tetrapods, including multiple individuals each of a coelophysoid, a drepanosauromorph, two sphenosuchian taxa, and two sphenodontian taxa. All are preserved along the shoreline of  a Late Triassic oasis in the Nugget Sandstone at the Saints & Sinner Quarry (SSQ). Recently, we discovered a non-pterodactyloid pterosaur at the quarry, represented by a partial uncrushed, associated/articulated skull imaged via micro CT. The premaxillaries are spoon-shaped rostrally; the maxilla is a simple bar with a needle-like nasal process, the suborbital jugal/quadratojugal blade is high; the nasal is a short, narrow rectangle; and the fused frontals are wide with a moderately high, tripartite sagittal crest. The lower jaws are complete, with a long, slender dentary terminating rostrally in a downward-bend with a ventral expansion, a short postdentary complex and a short retroarticular process. The quadrate-articular joint is well above the tooth row. At least three, widely spaced, conical teeth are in the premaxilla; maxillary teeth are mesiodistally long (3 widely-spaced mesially and 7 close together distally); and on the dentary there are two apicobasally high, widely-spaced mesial teeth and ~20 small, multicusped, low-crowned distal teeth. The frontals and lower jaws are extensively pneumatized. With a 170 mm-long lower jaw, this is two times larger than other Triassic pterosaurs and only the second indisputable Triassic pterosaur from the Western Hemisphere (the other is from Greenland). This is the only record of desert-dwelling nonpterodactyloids and it predates by >60 Ma all known desert pterosaurs. Whereas most pterosaurs are known from fine-grained marine or lacustrine environments, and other Triassic forms are smaller, the SSQ specimen shows that early pterosaurs were widely distributed, attained a large size, and lived in wide range of habitats, including inland deserts far (>800 km) from the sea. Finally, the SSQ pterosaur corroborates the Late Triassic age of the fauna based on drepanosaurs because pterosaurs with multicusped teeth are presently known only from the Upper Triassic.”

The description
sounds like an early dimorphodontid, but withe the deep jugal of Raeticodactylus. The size of the skull is similar to both. Unfortunately, too few clues to go on. I’ll wait for the paper… eagerly!

References
Britt BB, Chure D, Engelmann G and Dalla Vecchia F et al.  2015.
A new, large, non-pterodactyloid pterosaur from a Late Triassic internal desert environment with the eolian nugget sandstone of Northeastern Utah, USA indicates early pterosaurs were ecologically diverse and geographically widespread. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology abstracts.

 

 

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What is Tamaulipasaurus?

Tamaulipasaurus morenoi (Clark and Hernandez 1994, Fig. 1) Early Jurassic ~165mya, was a very early burrowing lizard originally considered “similar to living amphisbaenian and dibamid squamates but represents an entirely new lineage related to squamates but outside the group.” That’s because it has a robust quadratojugal, a bone otherwise unknown in squamates (see figure 2).

Evidently that was confusing back then.
Despite it’s strong resemblance to Bipes (Figs. 2, 3), Clark and Hernandez did not know what Tamaulipasaurus was back in 1994, and they still don’t know what it is, based on Clark’s current website (which also has other issues covered here and here). They put too much importance on the presence of the quadratojugal.

It’s not that important. 
As was demonstrated earlier, the quadratojugal has a way of disappearing and reappearing in various clades. So it’s not a big deal if it’s there or if it is not in a large phylogenetic analysis that includes hundreds of traits. While we’re on the subject, temporal fenestra also appear and disappear on occasion, so don’t apply hard and fast ‘rules’ to their appearance. Just run the analysis. Let parsimony prevail.

Figure 1. Tamaulipasaurus, a burrowing reptile with an autapomorphic quadratojugal.

Figure 1. Tamaulipasaurus, a burrowing reptile with an autapomorphic quadratojugal. The big question is not the novel quadratojugal, but that tiny little fenestra in the rostrum. Is it the orbit, as in Spathorhynchus and as Clark and Herenandez identify it? Or is it simply a rostral feenstra with the orbit confluent with the temporal fenestra, as in Bipes?

Phylogenetic analysis
Clark and Hernandez ran an analysis based on Gauthier (1988) as modified by Laurin (1990). They found 108 MPTs (that’s low resolution). They nested Tamaulipasaurus either between kuehneosaurs and lepidosaurs or between rhynchocephalia and squamata. Pretty broad. No indicated sister taxa.

With more taxa
in the large reptile tree that novel quaratojugal does not affect the nesting of Tamaulipasaurus as a sister to Spathorhynchus. Both are derived from a sister to Crythiosaurus, given the Clark and Hernandez data (i.e. with the labeled orbit considered the actual orbit). I find that problematic given the many other morphological differences (Fig. 2).

Earliest known burrowing lizard
The presence of such a derived lizard as early as the Early Jurassic indicates that predecessors to all these taxa must have first appeared even earlier, likely in the Permian with radiation and diversification throughout the early Mesozoic.

Figure 2. Spathorhynchus, Tamaulipasaurus and Bipes to scale.

Figure 2. Spathorhynchus, Tamaulipasaurus and Bipes to scale. Bones colorized in Tampaulpasaurus as Clark and Hernandez identify them. Note the different ways that the jugal is oriented in Spathorhynchus.

Convergence?
As noted by Clark and Hernandez, Tamaulipasaurus shared several traits and bears a strong general resemblance to the living burrowing lizard with forelimbs, Bipes (Figs. 2,3)

The big question is
not the novel quadratojugal. I’m more interested in that tiny little fenestra in the rostrum. Is it the orbit, as in Spathorhynchus (Fig. 2) and as Clark and Herenandez identify it? Or is it simply a rostral feenstra with the orbit confluent with the temporal fenestra, as in Bipes? In Bipes it appears that the prefrontal and jugal are fused to the maxilla, colorized here (Fig. 3). The only bone missing is the quadratojugal. Even the mandibles look very similar.

Figure 3. Tamaulipasaurus compared to Bipes. There is that tiny foramen in the rostrum in Bipes, exactly where the orbit was identified in Tamaulipasaurus. So, here the eyeballs are added to show where the orbits is and perhaps was in Bipes and Tamaulipasaurus.

Figure 3. Tamaulipasaurus compared to Bipes. There is that tiny foramen in the rostrum in Bipes, exactly where the orbit was identified in Tamaulipasaurus. So, here the eyeballs are added to show where the orbits is and perhaps was in Bipes and Tamaulipasaurus. This is DGS used on a drawing of a 3D specimen, useful here just to readily compare like colored bones.

So which is it? 
In phylogenetic analysis, surprisingly it makes little difference whether the foramen is an orbit or not. All the other traits trump the identification either way. No other of the 592 tested taxa are closer in morphological traits. My money is on the confluent orbit hypothesis. After seeing the photo (Fig. 1) from the Clark website,the opening  looks more like a foramen than an orbit, and it’s right where a foramen should be in a sister. Until higher rez photos become available, I’m working from the drawings of Clark and Hernandez (1994) for ‘circumorbital sutures’, which may include other errors.

References
Clark JM and Hernandez RR 1994. A new burrowing diapsid from the Jurassic La Boca formation of Tamaulipas, Mexico, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontoogy 14: 180-195.

Confuciusornis skull reconstructed with DGS

Confuciusornis sanctus 
(Fig. 1) is an early Cretaceous ornithurine bird known from hundreds of specimens (Chiappe et al. 1999) often preserved with full plumage. The skull is of the typical archosauromorph diapsid plan. The premaxilla is very long and toothless, like that of modern birds. The premaxilla extends to the frontal, separates the nasals and greatly reduces the maxilla. This was a bird with large manual claws, a substantial breastbone and a pygostyle instead of a long bony tail.

The problem is 
the skull of Confuciusornis has not been accurately traced (examples in black on Fig. 1). These prior examples do not attempt to capture the detail clearly available from the photographic data. Here DGS (digital graphic segregation) more accurately traces the elements then assembles them back to their in vivo positions.

Figure 1. GIF animation showing DGS tracing and reconstruction (in color) versus prior efforts in black.

Figure 1. GIF animation showing DGS tracing and reconstruction (in color) versus prior efforts in black. Here crushed elements are more accurately traced with colorized elements. These greatly facilitate the reconstruction below.

The resulting skull
greatly resembles that of Struthio and other basal birds and demonstrates the loss of teeth early in the evolution of ornithomorph birds.

Phylogeny
Chiappe et al. 1999 considered Confuciusornis the sister group of a clade composed of the Enantiornithomorpha and the Ornithomorpha. In the large reptile tree (now 592 taxa) it nests one node up, at the base of the Ornithomorpha.

Figure 3. Fossil of Confuciousornis. Note the large manual claws.

Figure 3. Fossil of Confuciousornis. Note the large manual claws.

This is but one more example
of a method that should be used universally for interpreting and reconstructing crushed fossils, DGS. This is also one more example that contradicts the tradition that one has to see the fossil firsthand in order to accurately assess its character traits. Several other examples have been posted previously. Keyword: DGS.

Figure 3. Confuciusornis pedal digit 5. When you look closely, you sometimes find things that are otherwise overlooked.

Figure 3. Confuciusornis pedal digit 5 (3 phalanges)  and metatarsal 5. Short black lines are at the joints. When you look closely, you sometimes find things that are otherwise overlooked.

References
Chiappe LM, Ji S-A, Ji Q, and Norell M 1999. Anatomy and systematics of the Confuciusornithidae (Theropoda: Aves) from the Late Mesozoic of Northeastern China. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 242: 1-89.

 

 

SVP 4 – new data coming in for Scutellosaurus

Figure 1. Scutellosaurus is a small armored ornithischian transitional between Lesothosaurus and Stegosaurus.

Figure 1. Scutellosaurus is a small armored ornithischian transitional between Lesothosaurus and Stegosaurus.

From the abstract
“While rare in Upper Triassic strata, the Ornithischia had achieved a global distribution by the Early Jurassic. The oldest ornithischian fossils from North America have been found in the Silty Facies of the Kayenta Formation in northeastern Arizona. These include the thyreophoran Scutellosaurus lawleri, an unnamed heterodontosaurid, and osteoderms and rib fragments tentatively attributed to the thyreophoran genus Scelidosaurus. I report here new Scutellosaurus material preserving anatomy that is poorly known or not previously reported for the taxon, including the nasal, maxilla, lacrimal, postorbital, quadratojugal, squamosal, opisthotic, scapula, ilium, and metatarsus. Both specimens were mechanically prepared until risk of damaging the fossil bone was deemed too high, at which point the specimens were scanned at The University of Texas High Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility. This approach results in three-dimensional volumetric models of individual bones.”

It is good to see
that more data is coming in for Scutellosaurus. It will be interesting to see if the new material (which I have not seen) fits the best guess offered above (Fig. 1).

In the large reptile tree, Scutellosaurus nests closer to Lesothosaurus not closer to the much larger and more primitive armored Scelidosaurus, which was basal to ankylosaurs and nodosaurs. Earlier the clade Thyreophora was shown to not be monophyletic. Scutellosaurus developed armor independently and was basal to stegosaurs. The long torso and short legs suggest a quadrupedal posture, rather than the traditional bipedal one.

Breeden BT and Rowe TB 2015. New specimens of the threophoran dinosaur Scutellosaurus lawleri from the lower Jurassic Kayenta formation of northern Arizona. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Abstracts 2015.

 

SVP 3 – The “more basal” ornithischian, Haya

News from
Barta and Norell (2015) on Haya, a basal ornithischian that nests with the L:ate Triassic Pisanosaurus in the large reptile tree despite the late survivor appearance of Haya in the Late Cretaceous.

From the abstract
“As one of the best-represented basal ornithischians, Haya griva forms a case study for investigating the influence of intraspecific variation on the hypothesized relationships of taxa. We scored nine specimens, including a juvenile. One analysis treated each specimen as a separate operational taxonomic unit (OTU), and the other treated all H. griva specimens as a single polymorphic composite OTU. The analysis with multiple H. griva OTUs resolved this taxon as sister to all orodromine and thescelosaurine ornithischians on the strict consensus tree, whereas the analysis with a single polymorphic composite OTU placed H. griva as an indeterminate basal neornithischian on a less-resolved strict consensus tree. The juvenile specimen groups with all other Haya specimens in the specimen-level analysis, suggesting that the current placement of H. griva is robust to at least some degree of ontogenetic variation. Collectively, these results suggest that 1) Haya griva exhibits a complex mosaic of character states relative to other basal ornithischians and may occupy a more basal position than previously thought, 2) proposed ornithischian dinosaur relationships remain unstable, 3) the phylogenetic placement of even well understood taxa may be altered when new specimens become available and a fuller range of variation is taken into account.”

Figure 1. Haya in lateral view.

Figure 1. Haya in lateral view.

Very interesting!
Haya in a more basal position than previously thought… that’s what you’ll find at the large reptile tree. Nice to get at least tentative validation.

The abstract does not say
whether or not the basal ornithischians, Daemonosaurus, Chilesaurus and Pisanosaurus were tested along with Haya. The first two originally were considered aberrant theropods by traditional paleontologists. Maybe their addition will settle the “unstable” aspect of their cladogram. It doesn’t hurt to try.

References
Barta DE and Norell MA 2015.
New specimens of Haya griva: impacts of novel anatomical information and specimen-level analysis on Ornithischian dinosaur phylogeny. Journal of Vertebrate Paleonotology Abstracts.

I

Reconstructing Cathayornis using DGS methodology

Updated October 23, 2015 with modifications to the ectopterygoids from data beneath the mandibles.. 

Cathayornis yandica (Zhou et al. 1992, Figs. 1-3, IVPP V9769) was an Early Cretaceous enantiornithine bird known from a virtually complete skeleton on plate and counter plate. It is crushed flat.

The best published tracings
of this specimen are shown here (Fig. 1). I wonder if you’ll agree there is too much left to the imagination in both of these professional tracings. The easy parts are correctly labeled, but I sense confusion in the more difficult details. Some of these were labeled originally with a “?”.

Figure 1. Above, Tracing of Cathayornis from Zhou and Zhang 1992. Below tracing of Cathayornis skull by O'Connor and Dyke 2010 traced using camera lucida. Some element labels are guesses. A few are mistakes.

Figure 1. Previous best efforts at tracing Cathayornis. Above, Tracing of Cathayornis from Zhou et al.  1992. Below tracing of Cathayornis skull by O’Connor and Dyke 2010 traced using camera lucida. Some element labels are guesses (See “?”). A few are mistakes.

Try DGS just once to see if it works for you.
Applying color overlays to digital images of Cathayornis (Fig. 2, 3) recovers more bones more accurately than prior efforts (Fig. 1). And these can be used in reconstructions (Fig. 3). Note the postorbital and squamosal both drifted over the right frontal. That was a surprise. Yes, a tiny postfrontal is present, not fused to the frontal. Broken bones can be identified and repaired. Even the palatal bones can be identified.

Figure 2. Cathayornis skull animated GIF. Each frame lasts 5 seconds. Here virtually all skull elements are identified and applied to the reconstruction in three views (below). Compare the results of this technique to figure 1. Note how the upper and lower jaws match curves.

Figure 2. Cathayornis skull animated GIF. Each frame lasts 5 seconds. Here virtually all skull elements are identified and applied to the reconstruction in three views (below). Compare the results of this technique to figure 1. Note how the upper and lower jaws match curves.

There is no guarantee you’re going to get things right the first time.
I don’t get things right the first time. I make changes as the interpretation runs its course. All DGS does is to remove some of the confusion inherent in the roadkill by segregating one bone after another until most – or all – of the bones are accounted for and fit the reconstruction while matching the patterns of sister taxa.

The postcrania
of Cathaysaurus is traced here (Fig. 3) and used to create a reconstruction in several views. The furcula can be traced here. Originally it was overlooked and misidentified.

Figure 3. Cathayornis tracing and reconstruction from tracing. Boxed area are ventral and rib elements originally segregated on a distinct layer and offset here for clarity. Note the green furcula, overlooked originally.

Figure 3. Cathayornis tracing and reconstruction from tracing. Boxed area are ventral and rib elements originally segregated on a distinct layer and offset here for clarity. Note the green furcula, overlooked originally. Those green bones on either side of the sternum are considered part of the sternum in traditional works. Perhaps they are, but the visible one appears to overlay the sternum, rather than be a part of it.

It may just be a matter of applied effort
When you discover something in paleontology, all you have to do is unveil it. The discovery is the big deal. Not much effort is required, but it is always appreciated. Later workers can add details with appropriate levels of support and criticism. If I had access to the specimen or a higher resolution image, perhaps the level of accuracy would increase further.

Now I’ll ask of the bird people 
what I ask of the pterosaur people. Try to build a reconstruction. It helps when you realize there are parts missing and then you can apply more effort to look for that part in the specimen itself.

If I have made any mistakes here, please bring them to my attention. I’m no bird expert, but I’m learning as I go. Here is a new image of enantiornithine birds to scale (Fig. 4) including Sulcavis, which we looked at recently.

Figure 4. Enanthiornithine birds to scale. Click to enlarge.

Figure 4. Enanthiornithine birds to scale. Click to enlarge.

References
O’Connor J-K and Dyke G 2010. A Reassessment of Sinornis santensis and
Cathayornis yandica (Aves: Enantiornithes). Records of the Australian Museum 62: 7-20.
Zhou Z.-H, Fan F-J and Zhang J 1992.
Preliminary report on a Mesozoic bird from Liaoning, China. Chinese Science Bulletin 37: 1365-1368.

SVP 2 – more Quetzalcoatlus post-cranial studies

Padian et al. 2015
describe the post-crania of Quetzalcoatlus (Fig. 1). There are a few confusing comments in this abstract (see below), which I did not edit. I encourage you to translate them yourself as best as you can.

Quetzalcoatlus in dorsal view, flight configuration.

Figure 1. Quetzalcoatlus in dorsal view, flight configuration.

From the abstract
Quetzalcoatlus northropi was named on the basis of a few incomplete post-cranial
bones that suggested a wingspan of 11-13 m; a morph about half this size is represented by numerous bones and partial skeletons, on which most anatomical studies are based. The 9th and 8th cervical vertebrae could pitch dorsally and the 7th pitched ventrally; the 6th and anterior cervicals pitched dorsally. This bend mitigated horizontal compressive load of the neck on the dorsal column. Some lateral movement was possible at all cervical joints. Dorsal movement was restricted to only three or four mid-dorsals and was mainly lateral. The scapulocoracoid could be protracted and retracted in an arc of about 25°, allowing the glenoid to move anterodorsally and posteroventrally. The humerus could have rotated in the glenoid about 25°; elevated about 45°, and depressed about 25-35°. When soaring, the distal humerus would have been about 20° above the horizontal, and the distal radius and ulna about 15° below it. The angle at the elbow in dorsal view would
have been about 115°. The humerus could move no more than 3-5° anterior to the shoulder, at which point vertical mobility is limited to about 5° above the horizontal and about 10° below it. When the humerus is fully pronated, protraction-retraction is limited to 40-45°. Oriented approximately laterally, the humerus could be elevated above the horizontal about 35°. The radius and ulna could flex to about 75° at the elbow but no rotation [pronation/supination] was possible at either end. When flexed, the radius slid distally over the ulna and retracted the wrist and outboard bones up to 60° (depending on the humeral position). Very limited rotation of the wing metacarpal against the distal syncarpal was possible. The asymmetrical distal ‘pulley’ joint of the wing metacarpal depressed the wing-finger during retraction. All joints of the hind limb are hinges except the hip, a ball-and-socket offset by a neck oriented dorsally, medially, and posteriorly. The hind limb was positioned in walking as in other ornithodirans*, and whether it could be elevated and retracted into a batlike pose incorporated into a hypothetical uropatagium is questionable.”

*a diphyletic taxon.

This abstract feels like
an engineer, in this case, probably J. Cunningham, wrote it, which is good. The reconstruction at reptileevolution.com (Fig. 1) agrees with this description, including the elevation of the elbows in flight, which is rarely done in illustrations and models. There is no trouble elevating the hind limbs into the plane of the wing with those ball and socket joints at the acetabulum. Quetzalcoatlus is often compared to a small airplane in size. Like all pterosaurs it would have also flown like a small airplane, with horizontal stabilizers.

Do not follow the reconstructions of some workers
who overextend the elbows and wrists.

References
Padian K, Cunningham JR and Langston WA (RIP) 2015. Post-cranial functional morphology of Quetzalcoatlus (Pterosauria: Azhdarchoidea) Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology abstracts.