Cheng et al. 2019
bring us news of a new armored Early Triassic (250 mya) specimen (YAGM V 1401; Figs. 1,2) they attribute to the armored Early Triassic hupehsuchid, Eretmorhipis carrolldongi (Fig. 5; holotype WGSC V26020; Chen et al. 2015). The holotype specimen lacks a skull. The authors considered the new YAGM specimen, complete with skull, conspecific with the WGSC holotype of Eretmorhipis, noting it had small eyes relative to the body and a duckbill-like rostrum.
the large reptile tree (LRT, 1389 taxa; Fig. 3) nests the YAGM specimen as a derived mesosaur, 32 steps away from the WGSC holotype of Eretmorhipis in the clade of hupehsuchids. The authors assumed Eremorhipis was a hupehsuchid because it looks like one. It really does. That’s easy to see. They are a close match when you eyeball them. Unfortunately Cheng et al. 2019 did not test that assumption using a phylogenetic analysis that included mesosaurs, which nest basal to hupehsuchids (Fig. 3). Once again, it’s taxon exclusion.
The eyes are actually large relative to the skull,
in the new YAGM specimen (Fig. 2), but the skull is tiny relative to the body. The rostrum is narrow relative to the cranium. Typically that enables binocular vision. The authors did not provide a reconstruction of the skull.
The wide, flat rostrum of the YAGM specimen has an open central area,
like Ornithorhynchus the duckbill platypus (Fig. 4) by convergence. Given that bit of morphology the authors sought to extend the duckbill analog by reporting small eyes relative to the body in the YAGM specimen. That gives them an irrefutable headline, but a little mis-leading given the reconstruction (Fig. 2). The authors suggest Eretmorhipis used mechanoreceptors in the rostrum instead of eyesight. They report, “Apparent similarities include exceptionally small eyes relative to the body, snout ending with crura with a large internasal space, housing a bone reminiscent of os paradoxum, a mysterious bone of platypus, and external grooves along the crura.” That’s pretty awesome! Larry Martin would have enjoyed this list of convergent traits. I have no idea how the ox paradoxum bone fit in the YAGM specimen skull. So it remains a paradox.
The authors created a chimaera
when they added the hands and feet of the holotype WGSC specimen to the new YAGM specimen in their Nature paper. Since the two specimens are not related, that is going to cause confusion. No matter how sure they were, the authors needed a valid phylogenetic analysis to nest their new specimen, now requiring a new generic and specific name.
Traditional paleontologists need to catch up to the LRT
and start including thalattosauriforms and mesosaurs whenever they study basal ichthyopterygians, like hupehsuchids. Basal taxa are all closely related and all three taxa include a wide variety of morphotypes, including some that converge.
It is worth noting
that many mesosaurs, like the SMF R4710 specimen, lack the long, laterally-oriented, comb-like teeth of Mesosaurus. Most mesosaurs have a typical diapsid skull architecture, distinct from the in-filling of the temporal fenestra that Mesosaurus exhibits. Mesosaurs are common in certain Early Permian strata. That provides plenty of time for the highly derived YAGM specimen to evolve by the Early Triassic.
It’s also worth noting
that the YAGM specimen has a cleithrum and a ventrally broad clavicle along with an interclavicle and other traits found in mesosaurs, but lacking in hupehsuchids.
A word to workers: Don’t try to ‘eyeball’ taxa.
Let the phylogenetic software take the bias out of making a taxonomic determination. We’ve seen professional workers make this mistake before by combining diphyletic turtles, whales, seals, and by miss-nesting Vancleavea, Lagerpeton, Chilesaurus, Daemonosaurus by taxon exclusion. Let’s not forget those who keep insisting that pterosaurs are archosaurs (virtually all traditional workers), again by omitting pertinent taxa.
Chen X-H, Motani R, Cheng L, Jiang D-Y and Rieppel O 2015. A new specimen of Carroll’s mystery hupehsuchian from the Lower Triassic of China. PLoS One 10, e0126024, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0126024 (2015).
Cheng L, Motani R, Jiang D-Y, Yan C-B, Tintori A and Rieppel O 2019. Early Triassic marine reptile representing the oldest record of unusually small eyes in reptiles indicating non-visual prey detection. Nature Scientific Reports Published online January 24, 2019.