Roman Uchytel. Taking paleoart to the next level.

Figure 1. Roman Uchytel is the arist/naturalist who is bringing prehistoric beasts and birds back to life.

Figure 1. Roman Uchytel is the arist/naturalist who is bringing prehistoric beasts and birds back to life.

Here’s an artist worth noting.
Roman Uchytel (Fig. 1) says it best himself, “Using only their skeletons, I bring creatures to life that roamed the same routes that take you to and from work hundreds of thousands of years ago.”

His mission:
“Roman Uchytel’s galleries constitute the first resource solely dedicated to the reconstruction of prehistoric animals beyond the dinosaurs. These are not photographs, but rather, artistic recreations from the skeletons of ancient animals that roamed the earth millions of years ago. Many of these fascinating creatures are unfamiliar to the public and remain a mystery even to science.”

Figure 2. Homepage for Roman Uchytel's images. Click to visit.

Figure 2. Homepage for Roman Uchytel’s images. Click to visit.

Check out his website
and you will be filled with wonder: https://prehistoric-fauna.com

 

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Revisiting the pes of Pectodens

Earlier we looked at Pectodens, a long-necked tritosaur that nests at the base of the tanystropheids + langobardisaurs and the fenestrasaurs, which ultimately gave rise to pterosaurs.

Metacarpal 5 is the problem (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The right pes of Pectodens in situ (left), sans the matrix (right), and rearranged to match sister taxa (center). The question is: is the rearrangement valid?

Figure 1. The right pes of Pectodens in situ (left), sans the matrix (right), and rearranged to match sister taxa (center). The question is: is the rearrangement valid?

 

Which bone is metacarpal 5?
Is it the long bone similar to metacarpal 4? That would make sense with most taxa, except Pectodens nests with other long-necked taxa, like Langobardisaurus and Tanystropheus. In those taxa metacarpal 5 is short and pedal 5.1 is metapodial (= very long).

Did taphonomy change things?
Or do we trust phylogenetic bracketing?

One more thing…
If the long bone is the metacarpal, then the phalangeal count matches sister taxa (4 phalanges). If the short bone is the metacarpal, then there is one extra phalanx. Did the preparator add a bone? Or did this taxon have an extra bone?

And take a look
at the width of the tibia + fibula. It’s the right width if the short bone is metacarpal 5. The width is not quite wide enough if the long bone is metacarpal 5.

Sometimes
you have to make a decision in paleontology. Sometimes you have to point your finger at a preparator’s mistake. Sometimes you make the mistake when you use your brain OR when you accept the data as presented.

What to do… what to do…

Figure 1. Pectodens reconstructed using the original tracings of the in situ fossil in Li et al. 2017.

Figure 2. Pectodens reconstructed using the original tracings of the in situ fossil in Li et al. 2017.

Here’s what I wrote a while back
at ReptileEvolution.com:

Pectodens zhenyuensis (Li et al. 2017; IVPP V18578; Anisian, Middle Triassic; 38cm in length) was originally considered to be a diapsid and a possible protorosaur. Here Pectodens nests between Macrocnemus and Langobardisaurus. Originally the interclavicle, sternum and quadratojugal were overlooked. Note the large orbit, the long metarsal 5 and the perforated pubis. The elongate caudal transverse processes anchor powerful leg muscles.

Figure 2. Pectodens skull traced using DGS techniques and reassembled below.

Figure 3. Pectodens skull traced using DGS techniques and reassembled.

With the short metacarpal 5
Pectodens cleanly nests with fewer autapomorphies at the base of the Langonbardisaurus/Tanystropheus clade.

References
Li C, Fraser NC, Rieppel O, Zhao L-J and Wang L-T 2017. A new diapsid from the Middle Triassic of southern China. Journal of Paleontology.7 pp. doi: 10.1017/jpa.2017.12

What is a flamingo in the cladogram of birds?

In the present subset
of the large reptile tree (LRT, 1090 taxa, Fig. 3) flamingoes (genus: Phoenicopterus, Fig. 1) nest with the seriema (genus: Cariama, Fig. 2). That makes the flamingo a sort of bird of prey, now concentrating on tiny plankton (algae + invertebrates). That’s why they are so distinct.

Wikipedia lists several studies
that nest flamingoes with ducks, spoonbills and/or doves.

Prum et al. 2015 used DNA
to nest flamingoes with grebes. These submersible sharp-rostrum, hind limb swimmers have not yet been added to the LRT, but grebes look more like loons, similar to Gavia. Until that analysis,  here’s a loon skeleton online. So when grebes are added, I’ll let you know how that works out.

The closest tested relative
of Phoenicopterus in the Prum et al. tree is Uria, the murre, which we looked at yesterday, Here, Uria nests between dippers and penguins, far from Phoenicopterus (Fig. 3).

So, apparently there is no consensus
out there regarding flamingo relatives. Are the flamingo-like traits of Cariama convergent or homologous? The answer has to come from comparative anatomy. DNA fails too often to deliver sisters who actually look like one could evolved from the other or from a common ancestor sharing a long list of traits.

Figure 1. Phoenicopterus, the flamingo, currently and provisionally nests with Cariama in the LRT.

Figure 1. Phoenicopterus, the flamingo, currently and provisionally nests with Cariama in the LRT.

Phoenicopterus chilensis (Molina 1782) is the extant flamingo, a long-legged filter-feeder with pink plumage. Here it ness with Cariama, the seriema.

Figure 2. The seriema(genus: Cariama) is the closest taxa to Yanornis in the LRT. The two resemble one another in most details, but Cariama lacks teeth, has a retracted naris and an elevated pedal digit 1.

Figure 2. The seriema (genus: Cariama) is the closest taxa to Yanornis in the LRT. The two resemble one another in most details, but Cariama lacks teeth, has a retracted naris and an elevated pedal digit 1.

Cariama cristatus (Linneaus 1766) is the extant seriema, a grasslands predator from South America. It flies only to escapte predators. Here it is basal to the flamingo, Phoenicopterus. At present it is easy to see why they nest together. And this is where the LRT shines.

Figure 7. The addition of the cuckoo, Coccyzus, to the LRT cements the nesting of the roadrunner, Geococcyx, with the heron, Ardea.

Figure 3. Taking advantage of an earlier cladogram, note the nesting of Phoenicopterys with the birds of prey, including Cariama.

If anyone can find a better match
for flamingoes, please let me know. Otherwise, you heard it here first. Meanwhile, I’m surprised to see what I learn in just a few hours has not been discovered before. This is not rocket science.

References
Linneaus C 1766. Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio duodecima, reformata. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii).: 1-532.
Molina JI 1782. Saggio sulla Storia Naturale del Chili. Bologna, Stamperia di S. Tommaso d’Aquino. 349 pp.

wiki/Flamingo
wiki/Seriema

 

Dippers, murres and the origin of penguins

Today
we’re going to take a heretical look at the origin of penguins, those short-legged, super-insulated, flightless, fish- & squid-eaters. Some can dive for 22 minutes down to 550 meters.

According to Wikipedia
the relationships of the penguin subfamilies (order: Sphenisciformes) and the placement of penguins among the birds “is not resolved.” By contrast, in the LRT the relationship of penguins among birds is completely resolved.

Basal penguins,
like Waimanu, are known from Antarctica and New Zealand from the early Paleocene. Waimanu was flightless and likely swam with both its short wings and paddling feet. This derived bird at the K-T boundary points to a much earlier radiation of more primitive, crane-like extant birds, apparently starting just before Yanornis in the Early Cretaceous.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on extant birds, especially penguins.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on extant birds, especially penguins.

In the large reptile tree
(LRT, 1089 taxa) penguin ancestors going back to Devonian fish are recovered. However, presently and provisionally two taxa are proximal penguin sisters in the LRT and these are derived from even more basal and high-energy terns, swifts and kingfishers.

Figure 1. Cinclus, the dipper is basal to penguins.

Figure 1. Cinclus, the dipper is basal to penguins.

Dippers like Cinclus (Fig. 2) traditional nest with Passer, the seed-eating sparrow. Not here (Fig. 1). Cinclus flies, walks and dips into fast moving freshwater streams to walk underwater. It flies underwater on short wings and it likes cold waters. Nasal flaps prevent water from entering the nostrils. The bones are solid to decrease buoyancy and the feathers are waterproof. The eyes can focus underwater.

Dippers can remain underwater for up to 30 seconds. They have a slower metabolism, despite their active lifestyle. Dippers do not live in colonies and they are smaller than their phylogenetic predecessors.

Phylogenetic miniaturization,
(the Lilliput effect) as we have seen with reptiles, mammals, pterosaurs, snakes, bats, dinosaurs, turtles, etc., leads to key internal structural changes. In the case of Cinclus, these apparently involve those initial adaptations to cold and water. And with these traits in its toolbox, the descendants of Cinclus were free to grow larger, get fatter, loser their ability to fly, gain the ability to handle deeper water and withstand colder nesting grounds away from predators.

FIgure 2. Cinclus, Uria and Aptenodytes, three taxa in the origin of penguins.

FIgure 2. Cinclus, Uria and Aptenodytes, three taxa in the origin of penguins. Despite their apparent differences, the LRT nests these three taxa together in a single clade.

Representing another transitional phase
Murres like Uria (Fig. 2; 45cm), traditional nest with snipes, plovers, terns, stilts, gulls puffins and auks (= Charadriiformes),. That’s a pretty diverse clade. Some of these also appear in the penguin clade of the LRT. Many workers consider murres to be unrelated to penguins, despite appearances. Murres are all north of the equator, while penguins stay south. Uria has pelican-like plumage (black and white) and is better adapted to swimming underwater (up to  4 minutes) with a longer torso and longer sternum. Digit 1 becomes a vestige and the rib cage extends nearly to the ankle. Murres live in colonies near sea waters.

Penguins like Aptenodytes (Fig. 3) traditionally nest with loons, like Gavia. Here (Fig. 1) they don’t. Penguins are flightless, trend toward larger, can swim better and seek larger prey. Finger 1 disappears. The pygostyle straightens out. The scapula grows larger. The metatarsus becomes shorter than the pedal digits. Again, these are all minor and gradual accumulations of traits.

 

Cinclus cinclus (Linneaus 1758 (Sturnus cinclus); Borkhausen 1797; 18 cm long) is the extant white-throated dipper. Its short wings whirr swiftly and without pauses or glides. From a perch it will walk into the water and deliberately submerg. It ‘flies’ underwater. Prey includes aquatic invertebrates. This is one of the most basal taxa among neognath birds. This clade developed a very deep sternum.

Uria lomvia (Linneaus 1758; 45cm tall) is the extant thick-billed murre. It is a strong flyer, both in the air and underwater. Basal to penguins, and derived from Cinclus, Uria also has an elongate sternum, two more dorsal vertebrae + ribs, and short wings.

Here is a unique video of YouTube. of a beluga whale toying with a tiny dipper… or is it the other way around. Enjoy! Nullius in verba

Figure YouTube: Click to see the entire charming video of a beluga whale making friends with a tiny dipper.

Figure YouTube: Click to see the entire charming video of a beluga whale making friends with a tiny dipper.

References
Deguine, J-C 1974. Emperor Penguin: Bird of the Antarctic. The Stephen Greene Press, Vermont.
Hackett S et al. 2008. A phylogenetic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science 320:1763–1768.
Linnaeus C 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.

wiki/White-throated_dipper
wiki/Penguin
wiki/Uria

African hamerkop, Antarctic petrel and American vulture

These three extant bird taxa nest together
in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1089 taxa) and it’s easy to see why when you look at their skulls (Figs. 1–3). On the inside they are more like each other than any other tested taxa. We usually see them from the outside (Figs. 4–6). Get ready for more heresies…

Figure 1. Scopus umbretta, the extant African hammerkop.

Figure 1. Scopus umbretta, the extant African hamerkop.

Scopus umbretta (Brisson 1760, 56 cm tall) is the extant hamerkop, a mid-sized wading bird (Figs, 1, 4). In the LRT it nests with the petrel, Macronectes, Note: the maxilla is much longer in these taxa.

Figure 3. Macronectes giganteus, the extant Southern giant petrel.

Figure 3. Macronectes giganteus, the extant Southern giant petrel.

Macronectes giganteus (Gmelin 1789; 56 cm tall) is the extant Southern giant petrel, a member of the Procellariidae and Procellariformes (tubenoses). Here it nests with Scopus and Pelagornis . This soaring sea bird has a wingspan up to 2m. Note the naris has shifted anteriorly along with the maxilla.

Figure 3. Coragyps atratus, the extant black vulture.

Figure 3. Coragyps atratus, the extant black vulture.

Coragyps atratus (LaMout 1853; 56 cm in length, 1.5m wingspread) is the extant black vulture and a sister to the giant petrel. Note the similar premaxilla. As in Threskiornis(below), the head and neck lack feathers.

Figure 4. Scopus, the hammerkop, in vivo.

Figure 4. Scopus, the hamerkop, in vivo.

One of the current problems in bird phylogeny
is how to tie the various orders of birds together at their roots. Which orders are related to which other orders? Here’s how the situation stands according to Wikipedea:

  1. Hamerkop family: Scopidae, order: Pelecaniformes
  2. Petrel family: Procellariidae, order: Procellariformes
  3. Vulture family: Cathartidae: order: Accipitriformes

According to Wiki:
Pelecaniformes include the pelican, shoebills, hamerkops, ibises, spoonbills, herons, egrets and bitterns. In the LRT, SOME of these disparate taxa nest at disparate nodes. Others have not been tested yet.

Frigate birds, gannets and boobies, cormorants, darters and tropic birds used to be in this clade, but DNA and morphological studies indicate otherwise. “Recent research strongly suggests that the similarities between the Pelecaniformes as traditionally defined are the result of convergent evolution rather than common descent.” None of these have been tested yet. Most have a bare throat patch (gular patch), and the nostrils have evolved into dysfunctional slits, forcing them to breathe through their mouths.

Figure 5. Macronectes, the Southern giant petrel, in vivo.

Figure 5. Macronectes, the Southern giant petrel, in vivo.

According to Wiki
Procellariiformes include the petrel and albatross. These, in turn, are most closely related to penguins and loons. The LRT (Fig. 7) finds several taxa nest between penguins and loons, including dippers, kingfishers and hummingbirds, but we’ll save that for another day.

Figure 6. Coragyps, the black vulture, in vivo.

Figure 6. Coragyps, the black vulture, in vivo.

According to Wiki:
Accipitriformes include the New World vultures, the hawk, secretary bird and eagle, but not the falcon and owl. DNA nests falcons closer to parrots and sparrows. Accipitriformes are carnivorous with raptorial claws and a sharply hooked beak, but the same can be said of falcons and parrots. Here (Fig. 7) falcons, like Falco, nest with the terror birds and their extant relatives, not with parrots.

Well, this is embarrassing!
Yesterday’s post had roadrunners linked to herons. Everyone knows roadrunners are a type of cuckoo. Today, with the addition of Coccyzus, the cuckoo, that problem resolves itself. The LRT nests both cuckoos with the heron, Ardea (Fig. 7). This series appears to  document another example of serial phylogenetic miniaturization, with a smaller and smaller overall size coupled with shorter legs (neotony) and a return to the down curved rostrum found in the ratite ancestors of herons, like Rhynchotus.

Figure 8. Members of the cuckoo/heron clade along with a baby heron.

Figure 8. Members of the cuckoo/heron clade along with a baby heron.

As we’ve seen before
DNA results do not match morphological results over larger phylogenetic distances. And the same appears to hold true for extant birds. I thought the birders had this all figured out, but apparently there is room for yet another hypothesis of relationships here. The LRT bird tree topology is, so far, staying pretty simple and logical.

Nullius in verba

References
Brisson MJ 1760. Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés : a laquelle on a joint une description exacte de chaque espece, avec les citations des auteurs qui en ont traité, les noms quils leur ont donnés, ceux que leur ont donnés les différentes nations, & les noms vulgaires
Gmelin JF 1789. Caroli a Linné … Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, Cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis. Editio Decima Tertia, Aucta, Reformata/ cura Jo. Frid. Gmelin. Volume 1, part 3. Lipsiae: Impensis Georg. Emanuel. Beer.
Latham J 1790.  Index Ornithologicus, Sive Systema Ornithologiae: Complectens Avium Divisionem In Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, Ipsarumque Varietates (2 Volumes) (in Latin). London: Leigh & Sotheby.
LeMaout 1853. xx

wiki/Scopus
wiki/Threskiornis
wiki/Macronectes
wiki/Coragyps atratus

Roadrunner skull and surface features

These two images of the extant roadrunner
(Fig. 1; genus: Geococcyx) were so close to each other, they presented a great opportunity to match skull to surface features on one of our favorite birds.

Figure 1. GIF animation of Geococcyx skull matched to surface feathers. Distinct from other birds tested so far, the nares is far forward, apart from the antorbital fenestra.

Figure 1. GIF animation of Geococcyx skull matched to surface feathers. Distinct from other birds tested so far, the nares is far forward, apart from the antorbital fenestra.

A minimum of guesswork
and/or imagination was used in the creation of this image. Since the skull is a cast, sutures were ‘sutured’ to create a single object.

Geococcyx californum 
(Wagler 1831; up to 60 cm longl) the extant roadrunner is a small terrestrial heron and a basal neognath with a posteriorly rotated pedal digit 4, unrelated to parrots and toucans with a similar toe. Traditionally roadrunners are considrered part of the cuckoo family. When cuckoos get tested, they may also nest here. They have shorter hind legs.

Figure 2. Geococcyx the roadrunner skeleton. Note the crane-like proportions of this small land heron.

Figure 2. Geococcyx the roadrunner skeleton. Note the crane-like proportions of this small land heron, probably a late-surviving Early Cretaceous member of the Euornithes.

And where does the roadrunner nest
in the large reptile tree (LRT 1087 taxa)? Between toothy Yanornis and toothless Ardea, the heron, all three at the base of the neognath birds, not surprisingly close to Sagittarius and Cariama, two other extant bird terrestrial predators with long hind limbs.

Nullius in verba

References

wiki/Roadrunner

Extant bird phylogeny: basal divisions

Using the same 231 characters from
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1085 taxa) the subset of extant birds and their allies also came out fully resolved (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. 5-frame GIF of a subset of the LRT focused on extant birds and their closest relatives. Though incomplete, patterns are emerging.

Figure 1. 5-frame GIF of a subset of the LRT focused on extant birds and their closest relatives. Though incomplete, patterns are emerging.

Prum et al. 2015 used DNA
to determine the phylogeny of Neoaves (nearly all living bird species). They reported this “remains the greatest unresolved challenge in dinosaur systematics”, but that was before the recent alignment of Ornithischia and Theropoda by Baron et al. 2017.

I have to admit
as usual, before I started adding more extant birds to the LRT, I knew nothing about them. Their generic names were new to me. You might remember the LRT started with just a chicken (Gallus) and an ostrich (Struthio). Now there are 42 birds with 143 outgroup taxa.

Birds are tough.
Often they fuse skull bones. That may be why other workers find protrusions and bumps to base their traits on. Some of the best data for many taxa come from decades old drawings and photos from skull sellers. I made many mistakes along the way, now minimized. The cladogram was my mentor here, telling me with autapomorphies where to look for mistakes.

Matching all prior workers,
tinamous and ratites were recovered as basalmost taxa. In the Prum et al. DNA study, chickens, crakes, screamers and ducks branch off first. In the LRT, which includes extinct taxa, the predators and toothed birds split off first. Distinct from the Prum et al. study, in the LRT long-legged walking birds are basal to many clades. Even the basalmost toothed bird, Yanornis, from the Early Cretaceous, is a long-legged walking bird, also capable of flying. And yes, this puts the origin of the clade of extant birds back to just after the Jurassic. Jurapteryx, from the Late Jurassic, is not far off.

Herons come next,
followed by all other birds with the corn crake (Crex) the hammerkop (Scopus) and the limp kin (Aramus) at the base. Adding taxa allows me to amend an earlier nesting of the elephant bird (Aepyornis) with ducks. Now Crex and Aepyornis nest together.

In the Prum et al. study
swifts + hummingbirds split off after chickens + ducks.

By contrast,
in the LRT swifts (Eocypselus) and hummingbirds (Archilochus) nest between terns (Thalasseus) and kingfishers (Megaceryle). Nearby, high-energy dippers (Cinclus) nest with other wing swimming birds: murres (Uria) and penguins (Aptenodytes). Cinclus is traditionally considered a passerine, but the sparrow, Passer, does not nest with it in the LRT. Passer nests between chickens and parrots (Ara), all seed eaters.

In the Prum et al. study
seed-eating passerines arise from carnivorous falcons and seriema (Cariama). That does not seem right on the face of it. In the LRT passerines arise from omnivores, like Chauna.

Neotony
juvenile traits found in adult specimens, evidently produced all of our short-legged birds and produced smaller adult birds, found at derived nodes. Juveniles of flamingos and other long-legged taxa have short legs. Of course, some small birds also had large and giant descendants, all at derived nodes.

As in many studies that conflict with the LRT
the lack of appropriate fossil outgroup taxa seems to set their cladograms in other directions. That can happen. DNA studies can never solve this problem.

Apologies for earlier mistakes due to
naive misidentifications and taxon exclusion. Those will be repaired.

Nullius in verba

References
Baron MG, Norman DB, Barrett PM 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature  543:501–506.
Prum RO et al. (6 coauthors) 2015.
A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next-generation DNA sequencing.