Updated April 23 with a revision to the tabulars of Panderichthys. Thanks DM! My bad.
Yesterday we took a revisionary look at Trimerorhachis insignis (Cope 1878, Case 1935, Schoch 2013; Early Permian; 1m in length; Fig. 1). Today we take a quick peek at the taxa that surround it in the large reptile tree (LRT, 980 taxa, Fig. 1) all presented to scale. Several of these interrelationships have gone previously unrecognized. Hopefully seeing related taxa together will help one focus on their similarities and differences.
Figure 1. Trimerorhachis and kin to scale. Here are Panderichthys, Tiktaalik, Ossinodus, Dvinosaurus, Acanthostega, Batrachosuchus and Gerrothorax. Maybe those tabular horns on Acanthostega are really supratemporal horns, based on comparisons to related taxa.
And once again
phylogenetic miniaturization appears at the base of a tetrapod clade. Note: the small size of Trimerorhachis (Fig. 1) may be due to the tens of millions of years that separate it in the Early Permian from its initial radiation in the Late Devonian, at which time similar specimens might have been larger. Provisionallly, we have to go with available evidence.
We start with…
Panderichthys rhombolepis (Gross 1941; Frasnian, Late Devonian, 380 mya; 90-130cm long; Fig. 1). Distinct from basal taxa, like Osteolepis, Pandericthys had a wide low skull, a wide low torso, a short tail and five digits (or metacarpals). No interfrontal was present. The orbits were further back and higher on the skull. Dorsal ribs, a pelvis and large bones within the four limbs were present.
Tiktaalik roseae (Daeschler, Shubin and Jenkins 2006; Late Devonian, 375mya: Fig. 1) nests between Pandericthys and Trimerorhachis in the LRT. Distinct from Panderichthys the opercular bones were absent and the orbits were even further back on the skull.
Ossinodus pueri (Warren and Turner 2004; Viséan, Lower Carboniferous; Fig. 1) was orignally considered close to Whatcheeria. Here it nests between Trimerorhachis and Acanthostega. The presence of an intertemporal appears likely. Distinct from Acanthostega, the skull is flatter, the naris is larger. Distinct from sister taxa, the maxilla is deep and houses twin canine fangs. A third fang arises from the palatine.
Acanthostega gunnari (Jarvik 1952; Clack 2006; Famennian, Late Devonian, 365mya; 60cm in length; Fig. 1) was an early tetrapod documenting the transition from fins to fingers and toes. Based on its size and placement, the nearly circular bone surrounding the otic notch is here identified as a supratemporal, not a tabular, which appears to be lost or a vestige fused to the supratemporal. This taxon is derived from a sister to Ossinodus and appears to have been an evolutionary dead end.
Trimerorhachis insignis (Cope 1878, Case 1935, Schoch 2013; Early Permian; 1m in length; Fig. 1) was considered a temnospondyl close to Dvinosaurus, but here nests as a late surviving basal tetrapod from the Late Devonian fin to finger transition. It is close to Ossinodus and still basal to Dvinosaurus (Fig. 1) and the plagiosaurs. As a late survivor, Trimerorhachis evolved certain traits found in other more derived tetrapods by convergence, like a longer femur and open palate. The presence of a branchial apparatus indicates that Trimerorhachis had gills in life. Dorsally Trimerorhachis was covered with elongated scales, similar to fish scales.
Dvinosaurus primus (Amalitzky 1921; Late Permian; PIN2005/35; Fig. 1) Dvinosauria traditionally include Neldasaurus among tested taxa. Here Dvinosaurus nests basal to plagiosaurs like Batrachosuchus and Gerrothorax and was derived from a sister to Trimerorhachis.
Batrachosuchus browni (Broom 1903; Early Triassic, 250 mya; Fig. 1) nests with Gerrothorax, but does not have quite so wide a skull.
Gerrothorax pulcherrimus (Nilsson 1934, Jenkins et al. 2008; Late Triassic; Fig. 1) was originally considered a plagiosaurine temnospondyl. Here it nests with the Trimerorhachis clade some of which share a lack of a supratemporal-tabular rim, straight lateral ribs and other traits.
This clade of flathead basal tetrapods
is convergent with the flat-headed Spathicephalus and Metoposaurus clades and several others.
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