New Evolution of Humans Video on YouTube

The origin of mammals from cynodonts is universally accepted.
The origin of humans from primates is universally accepted among paleontologists, not among religious conservatives. Perhaps this short video can help fact check a few misconceptions.

Figure 1. Human evolution video on YouTube. Cllick to view.

Figure 1. Human evolution video on YouTube. Cllick to view.

Here you’ll see the origin of humans,
and all their many body parts, in a new light. We start with fishy tetrapods, just hitting the beachheads 365 million years ago (mya). By 340 mya the first reptiles were already diversifying. Our lineage goes on from there in a stepwise progression with novel traits appearing with each successive taxon every few million years in the fossil record.

The record is becoming more and more complete.
Using the closest known sister taxa to the actual lineage we can document a gradual accumulation of human traits, both bones and soft tissues, as well as likely behaviors based on phylogenetic bracketing. Here the human lineage runs through the reptilomorphs and seymouriamorphs, the basal reptiles, the synapsids, the therapsids, the cynodonts, the mammals, primates, anthropoids and hominids, only some of which ultimately evolved to become human.

Feel free to pause the video
at any point if scenes change before you finish reading a frame.

Look for other YouTube videos
that document the origin of pterosaurs, dinosaurs and turtles in a similar fashion.

More details and reference materials
can be found at

Want more?
For the story of human evolution going back through raw chemicals, cells, worms and fish (along with all of the above taxa), read “From the Beginning, the Story of Human Evolution” by David Peters (Little Brown, 1991), a copy of which can be found as a pdf online at

2013: The Year in Review at PterosaurHeresies

Thank you for making this a memorable year.

WordPress is kind enough to supply year end stats. Here they are:

Most popular post this year: “Eosinopteryx Feathers, but no Flapping.”

These are the posts that got the most views in 2013.

Visitors from 162 countries. Most came from The United States. Germany & The United Kingdom were not far behind.

Not sure what makes a particular post popular. Heck, it could be the weather. But if there’s anything you want me to write about, please, let me know.

There are times when I’m stacked up with two weeks of posts ready to upload. Now is not one of those times as I’m busy working on a paper or two. And, of course, the incoming news stream seems to be drying up as of late.

I’m encouraged by the increasing use of traced photographs in academic publications. This ensures 1:1 accuracy. Color overlays help readers see the extent of bones much better than unordered areas identified by arrows. I’m still hopeful that paleontologists will expand the gamut of their inclusion sets. Maybe we’ll start seeing that in 2014.

I’m often plagued by the thought that I’m about to run out of topics. As I near 1000 blog posts, that reality is no doubt coming closer. Inspiration drives this blog, but it’s a fickle emotion, here today, gone tomorrow.

Some highlights from 2013 include:













It’s been a great year. Thank you for your comments, especially those that improve the data that builds this blog.

Happy 2014!

Minor changes to the large reptile tree

Adding a few taxa to the large reptile tree generally causes a reassessment of past scorings that stand out as autapomorphies. Some of these represent earlier mistakes. When the mistakes are corrected the tree can shift the nesting of taxa. Some taxa are only one or two steps away from a minor shift anyway, especially the incomplete taxa. So this can happen. No major tree topologies have changed, however.

Previously nested outside of the Archosauria, Turfanosuchus now nests at the base of the Dinosauriformes along with the PVL 4597 specimen attributed to Gracilisuchus, Trialestes and Herrerasaurus, which drops out of the Theropoda.

Batrachotomus and Saurosuchus
Now nest together. No biggie.

The nesting of the referred specimen of Brazilosaurus at the base of the Thalattosauria somehow shifted Largocephalosaurus and Sinosaurosphargis back to the base of the Sauropterygia (placodonts + plesiosaurs). These two are so different from their sisters, yet this nesting is only held in place by a few steps. And it’s still entirely possible that the dermal armors of saurosphargids and placodonts were derived independently.

The list of protodiapsids have arranged themselves into three distinct clades, shortening the phylogenetic distance between the basal synapsid Archaeothyris and basal diapsids like Tangasaurus (Enaliosauria) and Thadeosaurus (Younginids and Archosauriformes).

The basal reptile Cephalerpeton now nests basal to only the new Lepidosauromorpha. This makes the Reptilia truly diphyletic following the tiny Gephyrostegus specimen. Cephalerpeton shares more traits with those early captorhinomorph herbivores than the more insectivorous and lizardy Brouffia, at the base of the new Archosauromorpha.

Milleretta RC14 and Bolosaurids
Bolosaurids now nest separate from the caseids and the higher Lepidosauromorpha.

Odontochelys, still not a turtle
Odontochelys nests outside of the clade that produced Proganochelys, so developed its turtle-like traits by convergence based on the current list of characters and taxa. Another putative turtle ancestor, Eunotosaurus nests closer to caseids.

Tritosaurs up to 18+ taxa
Not bad for a totally new clade… Not counting all the pterosaurs, drepanosaurs, macrocnemids, etc. the Tritosauria now number 18 in the large reptile tree. Let’s put some more of these former oddballs and former enigmas into lepidosaur trees to confirm or deny this topology.

It just takes a little effort and a sense of wonder. And take off those blinders!

Reptile Phylogram Updated

As promised, updates arrive, but not always promptly.

Here is an updated phylogram of the large reptile tree placed against a time scale. Due to the large number of taxa (340+) it is quite impossible to read this unless you download the PDF file. Then there’s no limit to its magnification.

A phylogram differs from a cladogram in showing the amount of change between taxa by the length of the horizontal bars. Longer bars indicate greater morphological change.

Figure 1. The new phlogram of the Reptilia and its outgroups. Click for pdf file. Even at this scale the diphyletic nature of the Reptilia is readily apparent, as is the great flowering of reptiles in the Permian and Triassic.

Figure 1. The new phlogram of the Reptilia and its outgroups. Click for pdf file. Even at this scale the diphyletic nature of the Reptilia is readily apparent, as is the great flowering of reptiles in the Permian and Triassic.

Some key features

1. Sometime during the Carboniferous (Mississippian + Pennsylvanian) reptiles had their origin and their original split, but not much happened or is known about them from that remote time. Reptiles remain in the minority (it was the age of Amphibians) and no great radiations occurred then.

2. The Permian was a time of great radiation for both the Archosauromorph and Lepidosauromorph lines. Among the former, synapsids paralleled proto-diapsids and early diapsids. Among the latter large diadectomorphs and pareiasaurs dominated.

3. During the PermoTriassic extinction event only a few lineages made it through.

Among the new Lepidosauromorphs the turtles (Proganochelys) and the lepidosaurs (Paliguana, Lacertulus) survived.

Among the new Archosauromorpha three main lines survived. Certain Permian synapsids evolved to become Triassic protomammals and Jurassic mammals. Dicnynodonts also made it through.

Permian enaliosaurs like Claudiosaurus and Stereosternum gave rise to a large marine radiation in the Triassic.

Permian younginoids, like Thadeosaurus and Protorosaurus, gave rise to a large terrestrial radiation in the Triassic.

4. Many of the Triassic lepidosauromorphs did not change much into the Jurassic, Cretaceous and later eras.

By contrast, most of the Triassic archosaurmorphs became extinct or evolved into other taxa during later eras.

5. There are a few chronological oddballs, like Lotosaurus, a taxon claimed to come from Early Triassic sediments, but this seems at odds with the evolution of its purported temporal contemporaries and phylogenetic sisters.

Basal Lepidosauromorpha – the story told with skulls

Sometimes it just helps
to see a bunch of taxa together to get an appreciation for the evolution of one to another to another and another. Well, here are the members of one branch of the basal reptiles, the early plant-eaters, the new Lepidosauromorpha, all taken from the large reptile tree (recently slightly revised).

Click to enlarge. These skulls are arranged phylogenetically according to the results recovered from the large reptile tree.

Figure 1. Click to enlarge. These skulls are arranged phylogenetically according to the results recovered from the large reptile tree.

Contrary to conventional thinking,
the Diadectomorpha and Chroniosuchia are nested here within the Reptilia rather than within the pre-amniotes. Contrary to conventional thinking, the Caseasauria are nested here within the Millerettidae, rather than the Synapsida. These, and other new relationships were determined by adding taxa and thereby expanding the gamut of opportunities for every taxon to nest most parsimoniously – where the changes between taxa are minimized echoing the actual tree of reptile evolution.

Central to these discussions
Romeria primus (Fig. 1 in pink) – is at the base of the millerettids that begat the bolosaurids, acleitorhinids (not related to Lanthanosuchus btw), and the caseasauria, which now has new basal members, Feeserpeton and Australothyris. Romeria primus was largely ignored in prior studies. Now, perhaps, its importance will no longer be overlooked.

Orobates (Fig. 1 in yellow) – is leading the way toward Tseajaia and Tetraceratops, Limnoscelis, Procolophon, the lineage of Diadectes, Chelonia beginning with Stephanospondylus, and not finally the Pareiasauria. Orobates, likewise needs to rise in importance and needs to be added to several more focused phylogenetic analyses.

Saurorictus, Macroleter and the lanthanosuchids, Romeriscus and Lanthosuchus.

Figure 2. Click to enlarge. Saurorictus, Macroleter and the lanthanosuchids, Romeriscus and Lanthosuchus.

I say not finally because the next clade includes Saurorictus and Nyctiphruretus (Fig. 2) and the remainder of the new Lepidosauromorpha, including lanthanosuchids (Fig. 2), owenettids and the Lepidosauriformes.

No strange bedfellows here.
All taxa demonstrated gradual transitions from one to another. With this new phylogeny and tree topology the taxa that may or may not be someday discovered can more accurately be predicted based on phylogenetic bracketing. Hopefully more discoveries will help find the sisters of Orobates that will help define the base of this new, hitherto unknown clade.

Not amphibians!
Hopefully readers will glean the important fact that limnoscelids, chroniosuchids and diadectids are not amphibians (pre-amniotes), which represents conventional thinking. No, they’re nested deep within the Reptilia, far from Gephyrostegus and its ancestors and their kin.

Eudibamus is notably absent
Because Eudibamus is not a bolosaurid. It is a basal diapsid close to Petrolacosaurus. Strong foot homologies and long suite of other traits nest it there, not with heavy, plant-eating bolosaurids.

As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.

Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.

Lessons learned about the base of the Reptilia – part 3

Earlier here and here we learned about cranial traits that distinguished pre-reptiles from reptiles and the new Lepidosauromorpha from the new Archosauromorpha. Here we’ll look at the post-crania starting with character # 130 from the large reptile tree.

130 – Cervical centra: In pre-reptiles and the new Lepidosauromorpha: height = length. In the new Archosauromorpha: height < length.

135 – Cervical ribs robust: In pre-reptiles and others. In Lepidosauromorphs (but not Cephalerpeton) they are average in size and descending.

143 – Presacrals: fewer than 26 in Gephyrostegus + the Lepidosauromorphs. 26 to 30 in Utegenia to Coelostegus but more than 30 in Brouffia + Westlothiana.

159 – T-shaped interclavicle in Lepidosauromorpha and higher Archosauromorpha (but this is not a sharp divide with the posterior stem lengthening and the shield shrinking in a series of taxa

161 – Scapula and coracoid fused: Gephyrostegus watsoni to Casineria and basal Lepidosauromorpha

165 – Scapula/scapulocoracoid robust – Lepidosauromorpha, but not Cephalerpeton

167 – Olecranon not present – Utegenia to Westlothiana, but not Lepidosauromorpha

169 – Humerus torsion > 30 degrees – Reptilia

172 – Radius + ulna greater than three times their combined width: only Cephalerpeton

173 – Manus subequal to pes – Lepidosauromorpha

174 – Metacarpals 1-3 aligned: Gephryostegus + Reptilia

175 – Longest metacarpal: 3 and 4 in pre-reptiles and basal Archosauromorpha. 4 is the longest in Lepidosauromorpha and Synapsida.

187 – Pelvic plates fused plesiomorphically. Separated in Gephyrostegus watsoniThuringothyris (basal Lepidosauromorpha?) Brouffia and Casineria. Does this mean these taxa are immature? Maybe. Or maybe this is a transition trait based on size (neotony?).

188 – Pubis orientation – Anterior in pre-reptiles and the new Archosauromorpha. Medial in the new Lepidosauromorpha.

208 – Metatarsal 1 vs. 3 – Smaller than half in Silvanerpeton, Gephyrostegus bohemicus and Paleothyris, all separated from each other, so by convergence

210 – Metatarsals 2-4 shorter than half the tibia –  new Lepidosauromorpha (but not Labidosaurus)

211 – Four is the widest metatarsal in Silvanerpeton to Captorhinidae and Archosauromorpha (but not Paleothyris and Synapsida by convergence)

215 – Metacarpals 1-3 aligned – the Reptilia, but not Synapsida

218 – Pedal 4.1 is 3x longer than wide – At least Paleothyris and Hylonomus

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Lessons learned about the base of the Reptilia – part 2

Yesterday we looked at pertinent traits 1-39 from the large reptile tree that had a character distribution and division at the base of the reptilia.  Today we’ll continue with traits 40-128, finishing up the cranial traits.

45. Frontal with posterior processes – new Archosauromorpha.

46. Intertemporal absent (actually fused to the parietal making it that much wider) – the Reptilia

48. Postparietals (and tabulars and supratemporals) angled dorsally – the Reptilia

52. 69. Squamosal descent angle is a big curve, the so-called otic notch, in pre-reptiles. It  is obtuse and not indented in reptilia (but reversed following Romeria primus).

53. Postorbital/parietal contact (remember #46 the intertemporal becomes fused to the parietal making this possible) – the Reptilia

56. Postorbital appears as a strip beneath an overlapping postfrontal in Gephyrostegus to new Lepidosauromorpha. The postorbital is otherwise triangular.

57. Frontal/nasal angle is > 45 degrees from the midline in pre-reptiles and the new Lepidosauromorpha. The angle forms a zig-zag in the new Archosauromorpha.

58. Frontal proportions are not less than 4:1 in pre-reptiles and the new Archosauromorpha. The proportions are less than 4:1 in the new Lepidosauromorpha but not Cephalerpeton.

64. The squamosal descends to mid-level, due to a posteriorly deep quadratojugal in pre-reptiles and the new Lepidosauromorpha. The squamosal extends to the ventral rim in the new Archosauromorpha.

73. The quadrate leans anteriorly in pre-reptiles and the new Archosauromorpha, but this short bone is vertical in the new Lepidosauromorpha.

79. The opisthotic rises in pre-reptiles, but is lateral with posterior fenestra in reptiles.

82. The supratemporal is long, not large in reptiles, but this reverses in the new Lepidosauromorpha after Romeria primus.

94. The suborbital fenestra is present in the new Lepidosauromorpha, but not in  Cephalerpeton.

96. The vomer teeth are small, not fang-like in the Reptilia.

102. Pterygoid extends anterior to the palatines – restricted to Brouffia and Captorhinidae, but this character is largely unknown in basal reptiles due to various taphonomic circumstances

105. Pterygoid triangular – Gephyrostegus + Reptilia

108. Premaxilla tooth number – Gephyrostegus and Brouffia have 4. Cephalerpeton to the concordians have less than 4. All others have more than 4.

109. Medial premaxillary tooth longer than the others – the new Lepidosauromorpha

113. Canine maxillary teeth – Captorhinidae + several new Lepidosauromorpha and paleothyrids in the new Archosauromorpha by convergence

119. Mandible tip – rises in Cephalerpeton to Concordia, descends in Captorhinidae and is straight in all others

128. Mandible shape ventrally – straight anteriorly then convex posteriorly in pre-reptiles to Brouffia. Straight in Westlothiana and derived taxa. Convex in the new Lepidosauromorpha.

Post-crania tomorrow.