What is the enigmatic Otter Sandstone (Middle Triassic) diapsid?

Coram, Radley and Benton 2017
presented a “small diapsid reptile [BRSUG 29950-12], possibly, pending systematic study, a basal lepidosaur or a protorosaurian.” According to Coram et al. “The Middle Triassic (Anisian) Otter Sandstone was laid down mostly by braided rivers in a desert environment.”

Figure 1. The Middle Triassic Otter Sandstone diapsid BRSUG 29950-12 under DGS nested with basalmost lepidosaurs like Megachirella.

Figure 1. The Middle Triassic Otter Sandstone diapsid BRSUG 29950-12 under DGS nested with basalmost lepidosaurs like Megachirella. Skeleton is exposed in ventral (palatal) view.

The LRT is here to nest and identify published enigmas
The large reptile tree (LRT 1041 taxa) nests BRSUG 29950-12 with the basalmost lepidosaur Megachirella. They are a close match and preserve nearly identical portions of their skeletons (Fig. 2). Megachirella was originally considered a sister to Marmoretta, another basal sphenodontian from the much later Middle/Late Jurassic.

FIgure 2. Megachirella (Renesto and Posenato 2003) is a sister to the BSRUG diapsid.

FIgure 2. Megachirella (Renesto and Posenato 2003), also from Middle Triassic desposits, is a sister to the BSRUG diapsid and provides a good guide for its eventual reconstruction.

At the base of the Lepidosauria
in the LRT nests Megachirella, derived from a sister to Sophineta (Early Triassic) and Saurosternon + Palaegama (Latest Permian) and kin. Sisters to Megachirella within the Lepidosauria include the tritosaurs Tijubina + Huehuecuetzpalli (Early Cretaceous), Macrocnemus (Middle Triassic) and the prosquamate Lacertulus (Late Permian). Also similar and related to Palaegama is Jesairosaurus (Middle Triassic). So the genesis of the Lepidosauria is Late Permian. The initial radiation produced taxa that continued into the Early Cretaceous. The radiation of derived taxa continued with three major clades, only one of which, the Tritosauria, is now completely extinct.

Note
It is important to remember that lepdiosaurs and protorosaurs are not closely related, but arrived at similar bauplans by convergence, according to the LRT. The former is a member of the new Lepidosauromorpha. The latter is a member of the new Archosauromorpha. Last common ancestor: Gephyrostegus and kin.

Nesting at the base of the Lepidosauria
in the Sphenodontia clade makes the BSRUG specimen an important taxon. Let’s see if and when this taxon is nested by academic workers that they include all of the pertinent taxa and confirm or re-discover the Tritosauria. The LRT provides a good list of nearly all of the pertinent taxa that should be included in that future study, many of which are listed above. Based on that list, the BSRUG specimen is a late-survivor of a perhaps Middle Permian radiation of basal lepidosaurs.

References
Coram RA, Radley JD and Benton MJ 2017. The Middle Triassic (Anisian) Otter Sandstone biota (Devon, UK): review, recent discoveries and ways ahead. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association in press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.06.007

Pterodactylus manual digit 5

Tiny, vestigial manual digit 5
sits on the top of the giant axially rotated metacarpal 4 of all pterosaurs. Here (Fig. 1) manual digit 5 is curled up on this Pterodactylus scolopaciceps specimen (BSP 1937 I 18), a pregnant pterosaur. Photoshop helps this digit ‘pop’ making it harder to overlook. A reconstruction unrolls it.

Figure 1. Manual digit 5 on top of the giant metatarsal 4 on Pterodactylus. It's easy to overlook, until you look for it.

Figure 1. Manual digit 5 on top of the giant metatarsal 4 on Pterodactylus. It’s easy to overlook, until you look for it.

References
Broili F 1938. Beobachtungen an Pterodactylus. Sitz-Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaten, zu München, Mathematischen-naturalischenAbteilung: 139–154.
Wellnhofer P 1970. Die Pterodactyloidea (Pterosauria) der Oberjura-Plattenkalke Süddeutschlands. Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, N.F., Munich 141: 1-133.

wiki/Pterodactylus

Groeberia: no longer an enigma taxon and no longer an allothere

Wiikipedia reports,
Groeberiidae is a family of strange non-placental mammals from the Eocene and Oligocene epochs of South America. Chimento et al. 2013 determined that Groeberia was a member of the Allotheria, a mammal clade not recovered in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1013 taxa). Simpson & Wyss 1999, considered Groberia relatives to be diprotodontians (wombats), By contrast McKenna 1980 claiming that considering them metatherians was “an act of faith”. The LRT supports that nesting as Groeberia nests with Vintana, another former enigma, both within the Metatheria (marsupials).

Groeberia minoprioi (Patterson 1952,  MMP 738) and G. pattersoni (Simpson 1970) are best known from a tall and narrow anterior skull and mandibles (Fig. 1) with an unusual set of teeth.

Figure 1. Groeberia drawing, photo and color-coded bones and teeth. This taxon nests with Vintana in the LRT and that canine-ish tooth must be a premolar because canines are unknown in this clade going back several nodes.

Figure 1. Groeberia drawing, photo and color-coded bones and teeth. This taxon nests with Vintana in the LRT and that canine-ish tooth must be a premolar because canines are unknown in this clade going back several nodes. As in related taxa, the jugal contacts the premaxilla. The descending process on the jugal is just appearing here.

The large reptile tree (LRT, 1012 taxa) nests Groeberia with Vintana (Fig. 2) among the wombats.

Note the large gnawing incisors backed up by an long upper premolar in the place usually occuupied by a canine. The tooth is not a canine because no more primitive relatives have a canine. Not also the small bump below the jugal. This becomes much longer in relatives like Vintana.

Figure 1. Vintana as originally illustrated. I added colors to certain bones. Note the high angle of the ventral maxilla and the deep premaxilla. Lateral view reduced to scale with other views.

Figure 2. Vintana as originally illustrated. I added colors to certain bones. Note the high angle of the ventral maxilla and the deep premaxilla. Lateral view reduced to scale with other views.

References
Chimento NR, Agnolin  FL and Novas FE 2015. The bizarre ‘metatherians’ Groeberia and Patagonia, late surviving members of gondwanatherian mammals. Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology27 (5): 603–623. doi:10.1080/08912963.2014.903945]
McKenna MC 1980. Early history and biogeography of South America’s extinct land mammals.
Patterson B 1952. Un nuevo y extraordinario marsupial deseadiano. Rev Mus Mun Cienc Nat Mar del Plata. 1:39–44.

wiki/Groeberiidae

Pseudhesperosuchus fossil photos

Earlier I used
Greg Paul and José Bonaparte drawings of the basal bipedal croc Pseudhesperosuchus Bonaparted 1969) for data on this taxon. The specimen has some traits that lead toward the secondarily quadrupedal Trialestes. Together they are part of a clade that is closer to basal dinosaurs than traditional taxa paleontologists have been working with.

The drawings were great,
but I wondered what the real material looked like…and more importantly, what was real and what was not.

A recent request to
the curators at Miguel Lillo in Argentina was honored with a set of emailed jpegs from their museum drawers (Fig.1), for which I am very grateful. These were traced in line and color and reassembled with just a few unidentified parts left over (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. GIF movie of the skull of Pseudhesperosuchus showing the original drawing, the fossil and DGS tracings of the bones.

Figure 1. GIF movie of the skull of Pseudhesperosuchus showing the original drawing, the fossil and DGS tracings of the bones.

Pseudhesperosuchus jachaleri (Bonaparte 1969 Norian, Late Triassic ~210mya, ~1 m in length, was derived from a sister to Junggarsuchus and  Lewisuchus and was at the base of a clade that included Trialestes on one branch and the Dinosauria on the other branch.

Figue 1. A new reconstruction of the basal bipedal croc, Pseudhesperosuchus based on fossil tracings. Some original drawings pepper this image. Note the interclavicle, missing in dinosaurs and the very small ilium, only wide enough for two sacrals. The posterior dorsals are deeper than the anterior ones.

Figue 2. A new reconstruction of the basal bipedal croc, Click to enlarge. Pseudhesperosuchus based on fossil tracings. Some original drawings pepper this image. Note the interclavicle, missing in dinosaurs and the very small ilium, only wide enough for two sacrals. The posterior dorsals are deeper than the anterior ones.

Much larger and distinct from Lewisuchus,
the skull of Pseudhesperosuchus had a smaller antorbital fenestra, an arched lateral temporal fenestra, a deeper maxilla and a large mandibular fenestra. The seven cervicals were attended by robust ribs.

The scapula and coracoid were each rather slender and elongated. An straight interclavicle was present. The forelimbs were long and slender. The radiale and ulnare were elongated, a croc trait. Only three metacarpals and no digits are known.

The ilium was relatively small, but probably longer than tall and not perforated. The femur remained longer than the tibia. The tarsus, if that astragalus is identified correctly, included a simple hinge ankle joint. Only two conjoined partial metatarsals are known.

There is a small box
full of little sometimes interconnected squares among the Pseudhesperosuchus material (Fig. 2, aqua colored). I’m guessing that those are osteoderms, and if so, were probably located along the back. These would have helped keep that elevated backbone from sagging in this new biped.

The improvements in the Pseudhesperosuchus data
changed a few scores, but did no change the tree topology. The large reptile tree (LRT) can be seen here.

It’s good to see what Pseudhesperosuchyus really looked like,
— or at least get a little closer to that distant ideal. Size-wise and morphologically, this largely complete specimen is closer to the basal dinosaur outgroup than any other currently included in the LRT. And yet it is also distinctly different as it shares several traits with Trialestes unknown in any dinosaur. As a denizen of the Late Triassic, Pseudhesperosuchus represents a radiation that occurred tens of millions of years earlier, probably in the Middle Triassic. None of this clade survived into the Jurassic, as far as we know.

References
Bonaparte JF 1969. Dos nuevos “faunas” de reptiles triásicos de Argentina. Gondwana Stratigraphy. Paris: UNESCO. pp. 283–306.

Entelognathus: revisions

Yesterday we looked at Entelognathus (Figs. 1-3; Zhu et al. 2013), a Silurian placoderm transitional to bony fish. That was my first placoderm and I made some errors that have since been corrected. Those errors were corrected when I realized the frontal (pineal in placoderms and Cheirolepis) originated as a tiny median (purple) triangle that included the pineal opening. I was also confused by the splitting of the parietal in Osteolepis, which I thought gave rise to the parietal/postparietal split, but instead that is an autapomorphy arising only in certain Osteolepis specimens. Further confusion comes from the fusion of bones, the splitting of bones and the different names given to the same bone in Silurian to Devonian taxa. Because of this, today and today only I will call the bones by the colors provided by Zhu et al. A key to their various names is provided (Fig. 1).

I was also surprised
to see that Zhu et al. 2013 found no trace of a purple/orange division in Entelognathus (Fig. 1f). This is odd for a transitional taxon, but still possible. Worth looking into. Equally odd, Zhu et al. did not color the purple bone consistently (Fig. 1).

The pineal opening drift
from the purple to the orange bones attends the lengthening of the rostrum and perhaps the brain and olfactory regions. The purple bone invades the paired orange bones and at the posterior tip of the parietal is the pineal opening. So the purple bone more or less delivers the pineal opening more or less in the middle of the orange bones.

Figure 1. From Zhu et al. 2013 SuppData showing placoderm and other basal vertebrate skull roofs. Note: Entelognathus is the only taxon without frontals, which I found in the photos of the fossil, figure 2.

Figure 1. From Zhu et al. 2013 SuppData showing placoderm and other basal vertebrate skull roofs. Note: Entelognathus is the only taxon without a frontal/parietal split, which I found in the photos of the fossil, figure 2 and corrected at the tip of the long arrow.

I traced bone sutures on photos of the specimen
and found that purple/orange division. So now Entelognathus has a complete set of skull roofing bones from the nasal to the frontal to the parietal and post parietal. I may have even seen where the yellow green intertemporal splits from the orange parietal.

Figure 2. Entelognathus fossil. Scale bar = 1 cm. Here the frontal/parietal division is shown.

Figure 2. Entelognathus fossil. Scale bar = 1 cm. Here the frontal/parietal division is shown. Rather than a median uture, one finds a medial ridge.

I hope to never do another fish.
But happy that I was able to resolve some earlier questions and move on. Feelings aside, mistakes that go on unnoticed are worse than mistakes you, or others, find and correct.

Figure 1. Entelognathus drawings from Zhu et al. 2013, with colors and homologous tetrapod bone. abbreviations added.

Figure e. Entelognathus drawings from Zhu et al. 2013, with colors and homologous tetrapod bone. abbreviations added. Corrected from an earlier version.

References
Zhu M, Yu X-B, Ahlberg PE, Choo B and 8 others 2013. A Silurian placoderm with osteichthyan-like marginal jaw bones. Nature. 502:188–193.

Cheirolepis fossil images
wiki/Cheirolepis
wiki/Eusthenopteron
wiki/Entelognathus

 

Placoderm Entelognathus skull bones re-identified with tetrapod homologies

Images repaired May 18, 2017 after studying photos of the specimen, comparing related taxa and dispensing with false paradigms. Click here for more details. 

Barford 2013 wrote: 
“It may be hard to see, but you seem to share a family resemblance with Entelognathus primordialis. The fish, which lived 419 million years ago in an area that is now part of China, is the earliest known species with a modern jaw.” Here (Fig. 1) one can identify a complete set of homologous tetrapod skull bones understood by the original authors, who identified the bones with traditional placoderm names. (Ala, placoderms, bony fish and sacropterygians, including tetrapods, have different names for the same bone). And they made a mistake or two along the way, none of which negate their conclusions, but cement them.

I never thought I’d be featuring any placoderm fish in this blog
or in ReptileEvolution.com, but Entelognathus, as everyone already knows — and I just learned, is something very special. A major discovery. And this was my first day studying placoderms.

Barford 2013 reported, “Palaeontologists have traditionally believed that the fishes’ features bore no relation to ours. They assumed that the placoderm face was lost to evolutionary history, and most thought that the last common ancestor of living jawed vertebrates had no distinct jawbones — that it was similar to a shark, with a skeleton made mostly of cartilage and at most a covering of little bony plates. The theory went that the bony fishes evolved later, independently developing large facial bones and inventing the ‘modern’ jaw. Such fishes went on to dominate the seas and ultimately gave rise to land vertebrates. [Entelognathus] has what looks like a bony fish’s jaw, even though it is older than the earliest known sharks and bony fishes.”

According to Wikipedia
Entelognathus
 primordialis
 (Zhu et al. 2013; Late Ludlow, Silurian, 419 mya; IVPP V18620) “is a genus of placoderm fish with dermal marginal jaw bones (premaxilla,
maxilla and dentary), features previously restricted to Osteichthyes (bony fish).”

More than that,
all of the skull bones find homologies in tetrapods and bony fish (Figs. 1, 2) when certain bones are correctly identified or homologized. It just takes a few colors here and there to make it all clear.

Figure 1. Entelognathus drawings from Zhu et al. 2013, with colors and homologous tetrapod bone. abbreviations added.

Figure 1. Entelognathus drawings from Zhu et al. 2013, with colors and homologous tetrapod bone. abbreviations added. This revised image adds a small triangular frontal between the anterior processes of the parietal and the rest of the bones follow suit. 

All of the bones in the skull of Entelognathus
find homologies with those in Cheirolepis (Whiteaves 1881; Fig. 2) and also with tetrapods. Entelognathus lived 59 million years before the appearance of tetrapods like Ichthyostega. and is someday going to be a part of the story behind those Middle Devonian footprints.

Here new labels and colors
repair original errors and indicate tetrapod homologies in Entelognathus (Zhu et al. 2013).

  1. Three purported sclerotic bones are circumorbital bones (prefrontal, postfrontal, jugal)
  2. The purported jugal is the dorsal half of the maxilla before these bones fused.
  3. The purported quadratojugal is the posterior of the maxilla
  4. The rostral is the nasal
  5. The triangular frontal was overlooked
  6. The pineal plate is a pair of parietals
  7. The central plate is a pair of postparietals
  8. The marginal plate is the supratemporal
  9. The anterior paranuchal plate is the tabular
  10. The opercular is the quadratojugal
Figure 2. Cheirolepis skull (left) with skull bones colorized as in Osteolepis (right) and Enteognathus, figure 1. Colors make bone identification much easier. Note the post opercular bone differences between Osteolepis and Cheirolepis indicating separate and convergent derivation, based on present data.

Figure 2. Cheirolepis skull (left) with skull bones colorized as in Osteolepis (right) and Enteognathus, figure 1. Colors make bone identification much easier. Note the post opercular bone differences between Osteolepis and Cheirolepis indicating separate and convergent derivation, based on present data.

On the subject of nomenclature
Zhu et al. 2013 (SuppData) list the various names given to fish skull bones and their homologies in other fish clades. Some of the more confusing include:

  1. The parietal in sarcopterygians is the frontal in actinopterygians and the preorbital in placoderms.
  2. The postparietal in sarcopterygians is the parietal in actinopterygians and the central in placoderms.
  3. The supratemporal in sarcopterygians is the intertemporal in actinopterygians and the marginal in placoderms.
  4. The tabular in sarcopterygians is the supratemporal in actinopterygians and the anterior paranuchal in placoderms.
  5. And there are others…

Where is the authority that can fix this problem?
But if we fix it, then what? Then all prior literature will have to be translated. Either way, we’re hosed. Maybe we should just colorize homologous bones and leave it at that, as Zhu et al. did in their SuppData.

Entelognathus precedes Cheirolepis by 29 million years.
Preopercular and opercular bones do not appear in Entelognathus, but are present in Cheirolepis. So they are new bones in osteichythys.

The ‘al’ bone in Entelognathus (Fig. 1) is the cleithrum, supporting the pectoral fin.

The split (spiracle) between the skull roofing bones (intertemporal. supratemporal, tabular) and cheek bone (squamosal) do not appear in Entelognathus, but do so in Cheirolepis.

Sclerotic rings are not necessary in such small and well-protected eyes as in Entelognathus and if present, would have been very tiny and fragile.

Comparisons of the circumorbital bones in Entelognathus and Cheirolepis are strikingly similar down to the small post-orbit depression in the jugal in Entelognathus that becomes a notch in Cheirolepis.

Comparisons of the postopercular bones
of Cheirolepis and Osteolepis (Fig. 2) show little to no homology, suggesting a possible separate but convergent derivation.

Note some skull bones
later split apart at the median, while others fuse together. It’s their shapes and locations that identify them. “The large hexagonal central plate seems to have a single ossification centre, whereas most placoderms have paired centrals,” reports Zhu et al, making a case in point. A pineal opening is not present in the pineal plate (fused parietals) of Enteleognathus. This is further evidence that the pineal opening migrated from the frontals to the parietals over tens of millions of years. More on that tomorrow.

Barford 2013 concludes
“There remains a chance that E. primordialis evolved its jaw independently from the bony fish, so that we did not inherit it, and the resemblance is an illusion.” I don’t agree with this conclusion. The evidence for homology elsewhere overwhelms any competing hypotheses.

Friedman and Brazeau (2013) also comment on this discovery.
First, Entelognathus alwaybranches outside the radiation of living jawed vertebrates, meaning that key components othe osteichthyan face are no longer unique innovations of that group. Second, acanthodians — that pivotal assortment of extinct shark-like fishes — are shifted, en masse, tthe branch containing the cartilaginous fishes. This triggers a cascade of implications. If all acanthodians are early cartilaginous fishes, then their shark-like features are not generalities of jawed vertebrates, but specializations of the cartilaginous-fish branch. The most recent common ancestor of jawed vertebrates was thus probably clad in bonarmor othe sort common to both placoderms anbony fishes. This inversion of a classic scenario in vertebrate evolution raises an obvious question: how did we get it so wrong?”

In summary
Even when someone gets it right, some of the details may still be correctable – and the present corrections do not overturn the conclusion, but support it. As usual, I have not seen the fossil firsthand. I have not added Entelognathus to the LRT. I simply make comparisons to published figures of Cheirolepis, which was one source of the earlier problems I had, no hopefully settled.

Thanks to David M.
for directing me to the Entelognathus paper. : – )

Please let me know
if someone else has drawn the same insight in the last 4 years since the publication of Zhu et al. 2013. If so, I am unaware of it.

References
Barford E 2013. Ancient fish face shows roots of modern jaw. Nature News. online here.
Friedman M and Brazeau 2013. A jaw-dropping fossil fish. Nature 502:175-177. online here.
Whiteaves JF 1881. On some remarkable fossil fishes from the Devonian rocks of Scaumenac Bay, in the Province of Quebec. Annals and Magazine of Natural History. 8: 159–162.
Zhu M, Yu X-B, Ahlberg PE, Choo B and 8 others 2013. A Silurian placoderm with osteichthyan-like marginal jaw bones. Nature. 502:188–193.

wiki/Cheirolepis
wiki/Entelognathus

Lambdotherium: not a basal brontothere — it’s another pig relative!

Earlier a putative stem brontothere, Danjiangia, was re-nested with basal artiodactyls in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1005 taxa).

Here another putative stem brontothere,
Lambdotherium (Cope 1880, Mader 1998; Eocene, 50mya; Fig. 1) likewise moves away from the basal brontothere, Eotitanops. In the LRT  Lambdotherium nests with Ancodus (Fig. 2), another basal artiodactyl close to extant pigs.

Figure 1. Lambdotherium traditionally nests with the basal brontothere, Eotitanops, but here nests with Ancodus, a basal artiodactyl.

Figure 1. Lambdotherium traditionally nests with the basal brontothere, Eotitanops (ghosted here), but here nests with Ancodus, a basal artiodactyl. Brontotheres have a very tall naris. Pigs do not. 

I don’t know of any post-crania
for Lambdotherium. Note that Ancodus (Fig. 2), like Eotitanops, has a pentadatyl manus. Lambdotherium was traditionally considered a brontothere based on its teeth. The LRT employs relatively few dental traits. And maybe some specimens need to be reexamined. The very high arch of the Lambdotherium squamosal, among many other traits, is more similar to pig-like taxa, than to basal brontotheres, which here nest closer to rhinos, than to horses, contra the Wikipedia report on brontotheres.

Distinct from both rhinos and horses,
brontotheres have four toes on the forefeet. All are derived from a sister to Hyrachyus, which likewise has four toes.

Figure 1. Ancodus nests as a more derived sister to Sus and it retains digit 1 on the manus and pes.

Figure 2. Ancodus nests as a more derived sister to Sus and it retains digit 1 on the manus and pes.

References
Cope ED 1880. The bad lands of the Wind River and their fauna. The American Naturalist 14(10):745-748.
Mader BJ 1998. Brontotheriidae. In Janis CM, Scott KM, and Jacobs LL (eds.), Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America 1:525-536.
Mihlbachler MC 2004. Phylogenetic Systematics of the Brontotheriidae (Mammalia, Perissodactyla). PhD dissertation. Columbia University. p. 757.
Mihlbachler MC 2008. Species taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of teh Brontotheriidae (Mammalia: Perissodactyla). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 311:475pp.

wiki/Eotitanops
wiki/Lambdotherium