The joy of finding mistakes: fewer stem dinosaurs

Finding mistakes is what I hope to do every day
in my own work, as well as that of others. Each time that happens, the data set improves. Lumping and splitting improves. The hypothetical topology of the large reptile tree (LRT, 1036 taxa) gets closer to echoing the topology of Nature itself. Science is a process of winnowing through the data and finding earlier mistakes.

Figure 1. Revision to the LRT with a focus on the Archosauria. Here taxa with a long carpus all nest within the Crocodylomorpha, following traditional thinking. Dinosaur outgroups are reduced. PVL 4597 is still the basalmost archosaur.

Figure 1. Revision to the LRT with a focus on the Archosauria. Here taxa with a long carpus all nest within the Crocodylomorpha, following traditional thinking. Dinosaur outgroups are reduced. PVL 4597 is still the basalmost archosaur.

Today
I discovered some scoring errors among former ‘stem dinosaurs’ that turned them into basal crocodylomorphs. That’s a small shift and it involved turning some ‘absent’ scores in pedal digit 5 to ‘unknown’. It’s noteworthy that some related taxa have two tiny phalanges on pedal digit 5. A related taxon, Gracilisuchu, was illustrated by Romer (1972, Fig. 3) as a combination or chimaera of separate specimens, something I just today realized and rescored. One of those specimens is the so-called Tucuman specimen (PVL 4597, Fig 1), which nests apart from the Gracilisuchus holotype (Fig. 2) in the LRT.

Figure 1. The PVL 4597 specimen attributed to Gracilisuchus by Lecuona et al. 2017, but nesting at the base of the Dinosauria in the LRT.

Figure 2. The PVL 4597 specimen attributed to Gracilisuchus by Lecuona et al. 2017, but nesting at the base of the Dinosauria in the LRT. That fibula flange turns out to be another important trait. 

The corrected results
resolve the long proximal carpal issue in crocodylomorphs very neatly. Now, as in traditional thinking, that trait is restricted to only the crocodylomorphs and it gives us a basalmost taxon with the trait, Junggarsuchus. You might think, and it would be reasonable to do so, that phylogenetic bracketing permitted the addition of a long carpus and long coracoids with more confidence to taxa that don’t preserve this, like Gracilisuchus and Saltopus. But another related basal crocodylomorph, Scleromochlus, has small round coracoids, evidently a reversal. The carpal length is not clearly documented in Scleromochlus (Fig. 4).

Gracilisuchus

Figure 3. A basal archosaur with a very similar nasal bone, Gracilisuchus. Note pedal digit 5 here. This is how Romer 1972 illustrated it. The actual data is shown in figure 2, the Tucuman specimen, PVL 4597. The coracoid is not known in the holotype. 

Despite the short round coracoids of Scleromochlu
and its apparently short carpals, enough traits remain to nest it as a basal crocodylomorph, following the rules of maximum parsimony.

Figure 1. Scleromochlus forequarters. The yellow area shows the hand enlarged in situ. The size of the Scleromochlus hand makes it the last possible sister to pterosaurs, famous for their very large hands.

Figure 4. Scleromochlus forequarters. The yellow area shows the hand enlarged in situ. Large carpals do not appear to be present and the coracoids are not elongated. 

On a more personal note
I found out my art and a short bio were included in a paleoart website:
http://paleoartistry.webs.com while looking for information on friend and paleoartist, Mark Hallett, (wikipage here) whose website is down and I worried about his health. No worries. Mark just let his website lapse.

The author of the paleoartistry page
had both kind words and controversy for me:
“After David Peters’ excellent paintings in Giants, and A Gallery of Dinosaurs and Other Early Reptiles, as well as his own calendar, it seemed he was on his way to becoming one of the most reliable paleoartists of the 1990s, if not of all time. However, very controversial theories on reconstructing pterosaurs led to some harsh critiques obscuring Peters’ artistic brilliance.” 

That’s okay.
“Very controversial” does not mean completely bonkers (or am I reading too little into this?). It just means it inspires a lot of chatter. Or… it could mean that the author of the post follows the invalidated observations of Elgin, Hone and Frey 2010, which are the traditional views (Unwin and Bakhurina 1994), still used in David Attenborough films. If so, that would be a shame. Science is usually black and white – is or isn’t, because you can observe and test (Fig. 5) and all tests, if done the same, should turn out the same.

And you don’t toss out data
that doesn’t agree with your preconception, like Elgin, Hone and Frey did. In reality, my “very controversial reconstructions” remain the only ones built with DGS, not freehand guesswork or crude cartoonish tracings (as in Elgin, Hone and Frey 2010). The membranes (brachiopatagia and uropatagia) were documented in precise detail in Peters 2002, 2009 and here online.

Click to animate. This is the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus, which preserves twin uropatagia behind the knees.

Figure 5. Click to animate. This is the Vienna specimen of Pterodactylus, which preserves twin uropatagia behind the knees.

References
Elgin RA, Hone DWE and Frey E 2011. The extent of the pterosaur flight membrane. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (1), 2011: 99-111. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0145
Peters D 2002. A New Model for the Evolution of the Pterosaur Wing – with a twist. – Historical Biology 15: 277–301.
Peters D 2009. A reinterpretation of pteroid articulation in pterosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29:1327-1330.
Romer AS 1972. 
The Chañares (Argentina) Triassic reptile fauna. An early ornithosuchid pseudosuchian, Gracilisuchus stipanicicorum, gen. et sp. nov. Breviora 389:1-24.
Unwin DM and Bakhurina NN 1994. Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus. Nature 371: 62-64.

wiki/Gracilisuchus
paleoartistry.webs.com/1980s.htm

Guaibasaurus: a theropod! (Not a sauropodomorph)

Just look at it!!
With those very short, sharply-clawed forelimbs, how could anyone misidentify Guaibasaurus as ancestral to sauropods? And yet several big-name paleontologists did exactly that, most recently Baron et al. 2017.

Figure 1. Tiny forelimbs with three sharp-clawed fingers indicate that Guaibasaurus is a theropod, not a sauropodomorph. Shown to scale with related theropods Marasuchus and Procompsognathus.

Figure 1. Tiny forelimbs with three sharp-clawed fingers indicate that Guaibasaurus is a theropod, not a sauropodomorph. Shown to scale with related theropods Marasuchus and Procompsognathus. The posture of this skeleton is similar to the resting position of birds, which are also theropods.

Guaibasaurus candelariensis (Bonaparte et al., 1999, 2007; UFRGS PV0725T; Late Triassic) is known from an articulated skeleton lacking a neck and skull. Originally considered a basal theropod, later studies allied it with basal sauropodomorphs. Here this specimen nests as a basal theropod in a rarely studied clade. In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1018 taxa) Guaibasaurus nests between Segisaurus and Marasuchus + Procompsognathus (Fig. 1).

Wikipedia reports:
José Bonaparte and colleagues, in their 1999 description of the genus, found it to be possible basal theropod and placed it in its own family, Guaibasauridae. Bonaparte and colleagues (2007) found another early Brazilian dinosaur Saturnalia to be very similar to it, and placed the two in the Guaibasauridae which was found to be a primitive saurischian group. Bonaparte found that these forms may have been primitive sauropodomorphs, or an assemblage of forms close to the common ancestor of the sauropodomorphs and theropods. Overall, Bonaparte found that both Saturnalia and Guaibasaurus were more theropod-like than prosauropod-like. However, all more recent cladistic analyses found the members of Guaibasauridae to be very basal sauropodomorphs, except Guaibasaurus itself which was found to be a basal theropod or alternatively a basal sauropodomorph.”

On a similar note, Ezcura 2010 report, 
“A phylogenetic analysis found Chromogisaurus to lie at the base of Sauropodomorpha, as a member of Guaibasauridae, an early branch of basal sauropodomorphs composed of Guaibasaurus, Agnosphitys, Panphagia, Saturnalia and Chromogisaurus.” See Figure 2. We need to realize there are some phytodinosaurs, like Eoraptor, Eodromaeus, Panphagia and Pampadromaeus, that are outside of the Sauropodomorpha and outside the Ornithischia. The greater paleo community has not recognized this yet.

Figure 2. Taxa variously considered members of the Guaibasauridae. Here the top few nest with or closer to Sauropodomorpha. The bottom taxa nest with theropods in the LRT.

Figure 2. Taxa variously considered members of the Guaibasauridae. Here the top few nest with or closer to Sauropodomorpha. The bottom taxa nest with theropods in the LRT. Note the small size of Marasuchus, Agnophitys and Procompsognathus. Evidently phylogenetic miniaturization was taking place here, but in this case we know of no ancestors. Maybe someday we will..

I realize the authors
of the Guaibasaurus Wiki article can’t take a stand nor do they choose to test the hypotheses of PhDs, but I can and do here. Science is all about testing observations, comparisons and analyses. When Baron et al. nested Guaibasaurus with the sauropodomorphs, and Eoraptor + Eodromaeus with theropods, and avoided including a long list of taxa from the only other archosaur clade, Crocodylomorpha. and avoided including a long list of taxa from the outgroup to the Archosauria, the Poposaurs, then their results have to be considered suspect at least and bogus at worst. Headline grabbing is fun and lucrative for paleontologists, but not always good for paleontology. So many mistakes have been chronicled that it’s getting to the point that discoveries need to be put on simmer and only lauded when other studies validate them. On the same note, referees are not being tough enough on manuscripts.

References
Baron MG, Norman DB, Barrett PM 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature  543:501–506.
Bonaparte JF;Ferigolo J and Ribeiro AM 1999. 
A new early Late Triassic saurischian dinosaur from Rio Grande do Sol state, Brazil. Proceedings of the Second Gondwanan Dinosaur Symposium, National Science Museum Monographs. 15: 89–109.
Bonaparte JF, Brea G, Schultz CL and Martinelli AG 2007. A new specimen of Guaibasaurus candelariensis (basal Saurischia) from the Late Triassic Caturrita Formation of southern Brazil. Historical Biology, 19(1): 73-82.

Baby Limusaurus had teeth!

This is pretty remarkable.
Wang et al. 2016 reported on a growth series for Limusaurus (Xu et al. 2009; Jurassic, Oxfordian; 1.7m in est. length; IVPP V 15923; Figs. 1-5,) “the only known reptile to lose its teeth and form a beak after birth.”  

You might remember
Limusaurus became famous earlier for its tiny forelimbs complete with a digit 0 medial to digit 1, that made theropod workers go bonkers because they assumed the digits present were 1-4, not 0-3.

Figure 2. Limusaurus also has four fingers and a scapula with a robust ventral area, like Majungasaurus, but those four fingers are not the same four fingers found in Majungasaurus.

Figure 1. Limusaurus also has four fingers and a scapula with a robust ventral area, like Majungasaurus, but those four fingers are not the same four fingers found in Majungasaurus.

Wang et al. report,
“The available data are important for understanding the evolution of the avian beak.” Except… Limusaurus is not close to the avian line of ancestry anyway you look at it. The LRT nests Limusaurus, with or without teeth, with Khaan, a toothless, beaked oviraptorid. Wang et al. nest Limusaurus with Elaphrosaurus (Fig. 3) even though Khaan is part of their taxon list. So something is not scored right. Not sure about the discrepancy, but some of that could be due to the misidentification of manual digits 0-3.

Figure 3. Khaan, an oviraptorid that nests with Limusaurus in the large reptile tree AND the repaired Cau, Brougham and Naish tree.

Figure 2. Khaan, an oviraptorid that nests with Limusaurus in the large reptile tree AND the repaired Cau, Brougham and Naish tree.

Wang et al. report,
“The ontogenetically variable features (e.g. teeth/no teeth, etc.) have little effect on its phylogenetic position.” The LRT agrees. Wang et al. report that no matter which ontogenetic stage is tested for Limusaurus, it always nests with or near the ceratosaur, Elaphrosaurus (Fig. 3).The LRT disagrees.  In other words, with or without teeth, the topology does not change. In the LRT  toothed juvenile Limusaurus also nested with Khaan. Toothed Juravenator and Sinosauropteryx nest as sisters to that clade. The large Compsognathus specimen CNJ79 (Fig. 6) was a basal taxon. All of these sisters are closer to Limusaurus in size and morphology than is Elaphrosauru (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Elaphrosaurus is known from a partial skeleton lacking a skull.

Figure 3. Elaphrosaurus is known from a partial skeleton lacking a skull. Adult Limusaurus added to scale. Wang et al. consider these two to be sister taxa among basal theropods, which is not confirmed by the LRT.

The ontogenetic series of Limusaurus
is shown in figure 4. Not all the specimens are complete. None are shown to scale. All are portrayed as tiny rough tracings. I think this lack of detail is one shortcoming of the paper.

Figure 4. Specimens attributed to Limusaurus, not to scale.

Figure 4. Specimens attributed to Limusaurus, not to scale, from Wang et al. 2016.

Wang et al. also provided
reconstructions of a juvenile and adult Limusaurus (Fig. 5). Unfortunately, Wang et al. filled in all the missing bones and gave both reconstructions something of a generic theropod character, lacking some of the traits unique to this genus.

Limusaurus reconstructions from Wang et al. 2016, to scale and not to scale.

Figure 5. Limusaurus reconstructions from Wang et al. 2016, to scale and not to scale. The angle of the pubis is difficult to determine.

That Limusaurus juveniles had teeth
and adults did not, tells us less about the avian line and more about the oviraptorid line of theropod dinosaurs.

Figure 1. The large (from Peyer 2006) and small Compsognathus specimens to scale. Several different traits nest these next to one another, but at the bases of two sister clades. Note the differences in the forelimb and skull reconstructions here. There may be an external mandibular fenestra. Hard to tell with the medial view and shifting bones.

Figure 6. The large (from Peyer 2006) and small Compsognathus specimens to scale. Several different traits nest these next to one another, but at the bases of two sister clades. Note the differences in the forelimb and skull reconstructions here. There may be an external mandibular fenestra. Hard to tell with the medial view and shifting bones.

References
Wang S, Stiegler J, Amiot R, Xu W, Du G-H, Clark JM, Xu X 2016. Extreme ontogenetic changes in a ceratosaurian theropod. Currently Biology 27:1-5 plus SupData.

Full scale models from the vault

Back in the day
when I was writing and illustrating dinosaur books (1988~1992) I also built a few full scale models that I intended to use as subjects for paintings and museum displays. Here are most of them. Other models include the pterosaur skeletons you can see here.

Figure 1. Brachiosaurus skull, carved out of wood. Full scale.

Figure 1. Brachiosaurus skull, carved out of wood. Full scale.

At this point in my life
(1990s) the work (paintings / illustrations) was considered ‘acceptable.’ Even my papers were ‘acceptable.’ Unfortunately, when I started applying phylogenetic analysis to taxa and discovering new and overlooked relationships (published at ReptileEvolution.com, ) my work and manuscripts were no longer considered ‘acceptable,’ despite the fact that early discoveries made here are being re-discovered and validated years later by PhDs.

FIgure 2. Camarasaurus baby model. Full scale.

FIgure 2. Camarasaurus baby model. Full scale.

This Dimorphodon
(Fig. 3) was among the first of the models, based on Kevin Padian’s 1983 running illustrations.

Figure 3. Dimorphodon skull with dog hair for pycnofibers.

Figure 3. Dimorphodon skull with dog hair for pycnofibers.

Not sure why I produced this plesiosaur
because it took up a bunch of garage space and only entertained the mailman. Ultimately it was purchased by the AMNH, but never put on display. Where it is now is anyone’s guess.

Figure 4. Plesiosaur model. Full scale.

Figure 4. Plesiosaur model. Full scale. See figure 5 for the face.

Much of this plesiosaur
was fashioned at the late Bob Cassilly studios, who was a famous St. Louis sculptor and founder of The City Museum. Bob contacted me after seeing my book, Giants, because he had been commissioned to produce some of the giant marine animals pictured therein. Through that friendship in the 1990s, I was able to study specimens, including Sharovipteryx and Longisquama, from the traveling Russian Dinosaur Exposition that came to the City Museum for their first stop.

Figure 5. Plesiosaur model head detail. Full scale. Teeth are tree thorns.

Figure 5. Plesiosaur model head detail. Full scale. Teeth are tree thorns.

Among the smaller full scale models
is this sparrow-sized Pterodactylus in a bipedal pose (Fig. 6), ready to take flight.

FIgure 6. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps (n21) model. Full scale.

FIgure 6. Pterodactylus scolopaciceps (n21) model. Full scale. Later I learned that this genus was plantigrade (flat-footed), when quadrupedal. This one is about to take flight from a bipedal configuration. Digitigrady at this instance would have given Pterodactylus a bit more power in its initial leap during take-off.

And based on the evolution book

From the Beginning, these three (Fig. 7) are fleshed out steps in the evolution of tetrapods, cynodonts, mammals and man. Ichthyostega is a bit out of date now.

Figure 7. Ichthyostega, Osteolepis and Thrinaxodon, all more or less ancestral to humans. Full scale.

Figure 7. Ichthyostega, Osteolepis and Thrinaxodon, all more or less ancestral to humans. Full scale.

References
Padian K 1983. Osteology and functional morphology of Dimorphodon macronyx (Buckland) (Pterosauria: Rhamphorhynchoidea) based on new material in the Yale Peabody Museum, Postilla, 189: 1-44.

Feathered T-rex video: Excellent!*

The best video* I’ve seen on feathered dinosaurs.
*But note: their gliding Anchiornis forgot how to flap. Flapping came first. Then flapping with bipedal climbing. Then flapping with flying. Birds don’t come by gliding except to rest while airborne. Same with bats (if any glide ever). Same with pterosaurs. Let’s take gliding out of the equation for the origin of flight. That’s widespread antiquated thinking not supported by evidence. If you glide you do not flap. If you flap, some of your ancestors may learn to glide.

Click here or on the image to play.

Hypsibema missouriensis – a Late Cretaceous Appalachia duckbill dinosaur

Figure 1. Model of Hypsibema missouriensis, a hadrosaurid dinosaur

Figure 1. Model of Hypsibema missouriensis, a hadrosaurid dinosaur

Hypsibema missouriensis
(Cope 1869; Gilbert and Stewart 1945; Gilbert 1945; Baird and Horner 1979; Darrough et al. 2005; Parris 2006; Campanian, 84-71 mya, Late Cretaceous) is a fairly large hadrosaurid dinosaur discovered in 1942, at what later became known as the Chronister Dinosaur Site near Glen Allen, Missouri. At present this literal pinprick in the map of Missouri is the only site that preserves dinosaur bones.

Figure 2. Where the Hypsibema maxilla chunk came from on the skull of Saurolophus.

Figure 2. Where the Hypsibema maxilla chunk (Figure 3) came from modeled on the skull of Saurolophus.

Small pieces of broken bone and associated caudals and toes
were first discovered when digging a cistern. They had been found about 8 feet (2.4 m) deep imbedded in a black plastic clay. The area is in paleokarst located along downdropped fault grabens over Ordovician carbonates.

Gilmore and Stewart 1945 described a series of Chronister caudal centra (now at the Smithsonian) as sauropod-like, reporting, “The more elongate centra of the Chronister specimen, with the possible exception of Hypsibema crassicauda Cope, and the presence of chevron facets only on the posterior end appear sufficient to show that these vertebral centra do not pertain to a member of the Hadrosauridae.”

First named Neosaurus missouriensis,
the caudals were renamed Parrosaurus missouriensis by Gilmore and Stewart 1945 because “Neosaurus” was preoccupied. The specimen was allied to Hypsibema by Baird and Horner 1979.

Figure 3. Back portion of a Hypsibema maxilla showing tooth root grooves and cheek indention close to jugal.

Figure 3. Back portion of a Hypsibema maxilla showing tooth root grooves and cheek indention close to jugal.

Back in the 1980s
I enjoyed going to the Chronister site with other members of the local fossil club, the Eastern Missouri Society for Paleontoogy. I was lucky enough to find both a maxilla fragment (Fig. 3) and a dromaeosaurid tooth. I remember the horse flies were pesky and  one morning, before the other members got there, I was met by a man with a shot gun who relaxed when I identified myself. A friend found a series of hadrosaur toe bones, each about as big as a man’s hand (sans fingers). The bone was so well preserved you could blow air through the porous surfaces.

References
Baird D and Horner JR 1979. Cretaceous dinosaurs of North Carolina. Brimleyana 2: 1-28.
Cope  ED 1869.
Remarks on Eschrichtius polyporusHypsibema crassicaudaHadrosaurus tripos, and Polydectes biturgidus“. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 21:191-192.
Darrough G; Fix M; Parris D and Granstaff B 2005.
 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 25 (3): 49A–50A.
Gilmore CW and Stewart DR 1945. A New Sauropod Dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous of Missouri. Journal of Paleontology (Society for Sedimentary Geology 19(1): 23–29.
Gilmore CW 1945. Parrosaurus, N. Name, Replacing Neosaurus Gilmore, 1945. Journal of Paleontology (Society for Sedimentary Geology 19 (5): 540.
Parris D. 2006. New Information on the Cretaceous of Missouri. online

wiki/Hypsibema_missouriensis
bolinger county museum of natural history
More info and links

Carrano et al. 2012: Basal Tetanurae interrelations

The classification of theropods
has been going on for a hundred years, spurred every year by the discovery of new taxa. Before computers the main division was based on size. The use of software has clarified that issue.

Several years ago,
Carrano, Benson and Sampson (2010) undertook a large study of theropod dinosaurs, focusing on the basal Tetanurae (closer to birds than to Ceratosaurus), up to and not including Coelurosauria (Compsognathus, Ornitholestes and further derived taxa including birds and kin. The authors note: “Tyrannosauridae is now universally included within Coelurosauria (Novas 1991a; Holtz 1994a), whereas ceratosaurs and coelophysoids are basal to Tetanurae.”

They also note, “The placement of many individual taxa within any of these frameworks also varies. ‘Megalosaurs’ pose an even greater and more complex problem. Many of the taxa that have at one time been referred to Megalosauridae have now been dispersed elsewhere, but a large number of putative megalosaur species remain.”

“In summary, although a great deal of progress has been achieved in recent years (measured mainly by increased consensus), several points of uncertainty remain in tetanuran phylogeny and are therefore of primary interest here. These are: (1) whether spinosauroids (= megalosauroids) and allosauroids form a clade, or are serially arranged outside Coelurosauria; (2) whether ‘megalosaurs’ form a valid clade and, if so, its membership; (3) placement of fragmentary forms of potential geographic and temporal importance; and (4) placement of relatively well known but problematical forms (e.g. Cryolophosaurus, Marshosaurus, Monolophosaurus, Neovenator and Piatnitzkysaurus).”

Their work involved firsthand examination
of hundreds of theropod specimens, but no reconstructions were made. Looking at hundreds of specimens is a very good thing, but reconstructions are the notes that let the reader know how bones were interpreted. Without them one must laboriously go through the raw numbers to check for accuracy. No one wants to do that. Reconstructions are a sort of shorthand enabling one to quickly make comparisons of hundreds of characters.

Zanno and Makovicky (2013) recovered a virtually identical theropod tree topology.

In counterpoint
The large reptile tree (subset: Fig. 1) keeps growing without changing topology. Perhaps it offers some insight into theropod relations. Some of the stability of this tree may be due to the inclusion set. Some taxa are tested together here for the first time. There are fewer theropod taxa here than in the works referenced below, but several theropod taxa are included here that are not included in the referenced works.

Figure 1. Basal theropod subset of the large reptile tree showing troodontids basal to birds and separate from dromaeosaurs.

Figure 1. Basal theropod subset of the large reptile tree showing troodontids basal to birds and separate from dromaeosaurs. See the large reptile tree for included taxa not shown here.

References
Carrano MT, Benson RBJ and Sampson SD 2012. The phylogeny of Tetanurae (Dinosauria: Theropoda). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 10(2):211–300.
Zanno L and Makovicky PJ 2013. Neovenatorid theropods are apex predators in the Late Cretaceous of North America. Nature Communications | 4:2827 | DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3827 |www.nature.com/naturecommunications