Tulerpeton becomes the last common ancestor of all Reptilia (=Amniota)

Yesterday we looked at the nesting of Tulerpeton (Lebedev 1984; Latest Devonian; PIN 2921/7) as a basal reptile, rather than a basal tetrapod, which is the traditional nesting.

I thank
Dr. Michael Coates for sending a pdf of his 1995 study of Tulerpeton. From the improved data I was able to make new reconstructions of the manus and pes. The differences shift the nesting of Tulerpeton to the last common ancestor of all reptiles (= amniotes). replacing Gephyrostegus bohemicus, the taxon that held that node in the large reptile tree (LRT) for the last six years.

Figure 1. Tulerpeton parts from Lebedev and Coates 1995 here colorized and newly reconstructed. Manus and pes enlarged in figure 2.

Figure 1. Tulerpeton parts from Lebedev and Coates 1995 here colorized and newly reconstructed. Manus and pes enlarged in figure 2. Note the in situ placement of the pedal phalanges. The clavicle is shown as originally published and withe the ventral view reduced in width to compare its unchanged length to the original lateral view image.

In the new reconstruction
only the manus retained 6 digits, with the lateral sixth digit a vestige. The pes has a new reconstruction with only 5 digits, very much in the pattern of Gephyrostegus bohemicus. Both have five phalanges on digit 5. In the new reconstructions all of the PILs (Peters 2000) line up in sets.

Figure 2. Tulerpeton manus and pes in situ, reconstructed by Lebdev and Coates 1995 and newly reconstructed here.

Figure 2. Tulerpeton manus and pes in situ, reconstructed by Lebdev and Coates 1995 and newly reconstructed here with PILs added. Note the broken mt5 and the reinterpretation of the squarish elements as phalanges, not distal carpals. The tibiale is rotated 90º to cap the tibia.

Lebedev and Coates report:
“A cladistic analysis indicates that Tulerpeton is a reptilomoprh stem-group amniote and the earliest known crown-group tetrapod. The divergence of reptilomorphs from batrachomorphs (frogs and kin) occurred before the Devonian Carboniferous boundary. Polydactyly persisted after the evolutionary divergence of the principal lineages of living tetrapods. Tulerpeton was primarily air-breathing.” They did not test Silvanerpeton, Gephyrostegus, Eldeceeon or Urumqia, which all now nest as proximal kin to Tulerpeton.

Autapomorphies
Manual digit 6 is present as a vestigeAn anocheithrum (small bone atop the cleithrum) is present. Metatarsal 1 in Tulerpeton is the largest in the set. The posterior ilium rises. The femur has a large, sharp, fourth (posterior) trochanter.

Scales
on Tulerpeton are also found similar in size and number are also found in related taxa.

Taxon exclusion
and digital graphic segregation AND reconstruction AND comparative anatomy all contributed to the new data scores. As usual, I have not seen the specimen, but I did add it to a large gamut data matrix, the likes of which are not typically employed.

Figure 1. Silvanerpeton and Gephyrostegus to the same scale. Each of the two frames takes five seconds. Novel traits are listed. This transition occurred in the early Viséan, over 340 mya. Gephyrostgeus is more robust and athletic with a larger capacity to carry and lay eggs.

Figure 3. Silvanerpeton and Gephyrostegus to the same scale. Each of the two frames takes five seconds. Novel traits are listed. These two give some idea about the size and shape of Tulerpeton.

References
Coates MI and Ruta M 2001 (2002). Fins to limbs: What the fossils say. Evolution & Development 4(5): 390–401.
Lebedev OA 1984. The first find of a Devonian tetrapod in USSR. Doklady Akad. Navk. SSSR. 278: 1407–1413.
Lebedev OA and Clack JA 1993. Upper Devonian tetrapods from Andreyeva, Tula Region, Russia. Paleontology36: 721-734.
Lebedev OA and Coates MI 1995. postcranial skeleton of the Devonian tetrapod Tulerpeton curtum Lebedev. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 114 (3): 307–348.
Peters D 2000. Description and Interpretation of Interphalangeal Lines in Tetrapods. Ichnos, 7: 11-41

wiki/Tulerpeton

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Devonian fish heads

New data on February 27, 2017
focuses on Kenichthys (Zhu and Ahlberg 2004), a sarcopterygian fish in which the posterior naris has migrated to the jaw line, on its way to the inside of the mouth (Fig. A).

Figure A. From Zhu and Ahlberg 2004 demonstrating the migration of the posterior naris in Youngolepis to the rim of the jaw in Kenichthys, and to the inside of the mouth in Eusthenopteron.

Figure A. From Zhu and Ahlberg 2004 demonstrating the migration of the posterior naris in Youngolepis to the rim of the jaw in Kenichthys, and to the inside of the mouth in Eusthenopteron.

In a quest for understanding
the origins of everything reptilian, today we’ll take a look at the skulls of three Devonian fish with skull bones homologous with those of reptiles.

FIgure 1. Cheirolepis skull. Most bones have readily identified homologs with tetrapods, but the medal skull bones and the pineal opening do some shifting. Yes, that's the pineal appearing in the inter frontal.

FIgure 1. Cheirolepis skull. Most bones have readily identified homologs with tetrapods, but the medal skull bones and the pineal opening do some shifting. Yes, that’s the pineal appearing in the inter frontal. DIs the supratemporal split to give rise to temporals? And did the parietals split to give rise to post parietals? Or did the tabulars and post parietals  migrate?

Cheirolepis trailli (Agassiz 1835; Middle Devonian, 390 mya; 30-55?cm in length; Fig. 1) is considered one of the earliest actinopterygian (ray-finned) fish with ‘standard’ dermal skull bones. Those bones were homologous with those of coeval and later sarcopterygian fish, like Eusthenopteron (Fig. 2) and Osteolepis (above right, Fig. 3)and tetrapods, like Ichthyostega. That series of small rostral bones will fuse to become the nasal in tetrapods. The maxilla will become much shallower, the rostrum will lengthen.

In Cheirolepis (now the basal taxon in the large reptile tree, LRT, 955 taxa) the orbit is far forward. The jaws opened up to right angles to form a large gape. The pineal opening pierced the inter-frontal (originally the singular frontal). Note the great depth of the maxilla on the cheek. That doesn’t last in tetrapods. Bony gill covers were present. Those disappear, too. The pectoral fins were lobed and muscular, but the hind fins were not. The pelvis and dorsal fins were large and broad-based. The tail was heterocercal, like a shark’s tail. The body was deep and broad anteriorly, narrower posteriorly. The lumbar  region becomes wider and less streamlined in basal tetrapods.

The homologies of the tabular and postparietal
are questionable here, so two solutions are shown (Fig. 1). The one on the left is likely correct based on the random appearance of post parietals in Osteolepis (Fig. 3) from the random splitting of elongate parietals.

The homologies of the frontals and parietals
are reidentified here for Cheirolepis (Fig. 1) and Eusthenopteron (Fig. 2) based on tetrapod skull bones and the pattern in Osteolepis skull roofing bones (Fig. 3). In their original identity, the pineal opening pierced the parietals. Here the pineal opening migrates from the inter frontal to the frontals, heading toward the parietals in basal tetrapods. The pineal basically follows the lateral eyes as they also migrate posteriorly.

Figure 2. Eusthenopteron skull showing some changes from the Cheirolepis skull.

Figure 2. Eusthenopteron skull showing some changes from the Cheirolepis skull. Here the post parietals have not split rom the parietals. Pink bone on verbal column is the future sacral, the posterior most vertebra with tiny transverse processes (ribs).

Eusthneopteron foordi (Whiteaves 1881; Late Devonian, 385 mya; 1.8m in length) was one of the first fish genera known to share a long list of traits with basal tetrapods.

Distinct from Cheirolepis
Eusthenopteron had choanae (palatal openings for the passage of air, internal nares). The posterior maxilla was not so deep. The orbits were smaller and set further posteriorly. The mandible bones were more like those of tetrapods. Limb bones appear within the pectoral and pelvic fins, but no distinct wrist, ankle, metapodial or digit bones are yet present. Fin rays remain. The jaws were rimmed with tiny teeth. The palate had several large fangs. The tail was not so heterocercal, but stretched out more or less in line with the vertebral column.

Not as visible in these figures…
While all fish have anterior and posterior external naris for odor-laden water to enter and exit, in Eusthenopteron and Osteolepis the posterior naris has migrated to the orbit to become the tear duct. Now, that’s a clue that these fish were spending time poking their eyes above the water and perhaps not gulping air like a lungfish, but breathing and smelling through its new choanae (internal nares).

Figure 3. Osteolepis cranial shield bones from Graham-Smith 1978 and reidentified here (in white)

Figure 3. Osteolepis cranial shield bones from Graham-Smith 1978 and reidentified here (in white). These are due to individual variation.

Variation in the skull shield of Osteolepis (Fig. 4)
is shown above (Fig. 3). Bones originally labeled intertemporals are here considered supratemporals. Original supratemporals are here considered tabulars. Note the random splitting of the parietals, originally considered anterior parietals (APa) and parietals (Pa). Here those bones are parietals and post parietals based on tetrapod homologies. In one Osteolepis specimen (Fig. 3 lower right) extra bones (supernumeraries – sa) appear, but do not appear in related taxa.

Figure 2. Ostelepis has a large bone basal to the pelvic fin. IMHO it is too far back to be a possible ischium, contra Panchen.

Figure 4. Ostelepis, more or less actual size. The heterocercal tail is retained here.

References
Agassiz JLR 1835. On the fossil fishes of Scotland. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, British Association for the Advancement of Science, Edinburgh.
Graham-Smith W 1978. On the Lateral Lines and Dermal Bones in the Parietal Region of Some Crossopterygian and Dipnoan Fishes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 282 (986):41-105.
Schultze H-P 1984. Juvenile specimens of Eusthenopteron foordi Whiteaves, 1881 (Osteolepiform rhipidistian, Pisces) from the Late Devonian of Miguasha, Quebec, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 4: 1-16.
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 and Ahlberg P 2004. The origin of the internal nostril of tetrapods. Nature 432:94-97.

Cheirolepis fossil images
wiki/Cheirolepis
wiki/Eusthenopteron

Acherontiscus at the base of the caecilian clade

Acherontiscus caledoniae (Carroll 1969; Namurian, Carboniferous; 1967/12/1 Royal Scottish Museum; Fig. 1) is a tiny slender aquatic amphibian with vestigial limbs and a large pectoral girdle.

FIgure 1. Acherontiscus, a basal adelogyrinid, close to the origin of caecilians, derived from a sister to Microbrachis.

FIgure 1. Acherontiscus, a basal adelogyrinid, close to the origin of caecilians, derived from a sister to Microbrachis.

Carroll wrote: Acherontiscus combiines cranial characteristics typical of lepospondyls with a vertebral structure resembling that of embolomeres” (like Proterogyrinus). “This form cannot be placed in any recognized amphibian orders but presumably represents an isolated lineage which originated prior to the establishment of the definitive characteristics which differentiate all known lepospondyls and labyrinthodonts.” 

As a lepospondyl
“This genus provides the first conclusive evidence of the presence of multiple central element in the trunk region.”

Here,
in the large reptile tree (LRT) Acherontiscus nests between the microsaur, Microbrachis, and Adelogyrinus + Adelospondylus. Carroll recognized “The pattern of the skull roof of Acherontiscus resembles most closely that of the microsaur Microbrachis” a taxon presently known only from later Late Carboniferous strata (305 mya).

Diagnosis:
“Small stegocephalian amphibia with both pleurocentra and intercenta well-developed cylinders. Skull with lateral line canals, orbits far forward, no otic notch, teeth without labyrinthine infolding of enamel. Demoral pectoral gidle well developed. Long trunk region.”

References
Carroll RL 1969. A new family of Carboniferous amphibians. Palaeontology 12(4):53–548.

Odd Gerrothorax nests with Greererpeton

Figure 1. Gerrothorax, lacks a supratemporal rim and has laterally extended ribs, similar to those in Greererpeton.

Figure 1. Gerrothorax, lacks a supratemporal rim and has laterally extended ribs, similar to those in Greererpeton. There is some variation and perhaps some confusion regarding the identity of the bones between the orbits. Here an alternate is shown that is similar to Greererpeton.

Gerrothorax pulcherrimus (Nilsson 1934, Jenkins et al. 2008; Late Triassic) was and is considered a plagiosaurine temnospondyl. Here it nests with Greererpeton with which it shares a lack of a supratemporal-tabular rim, the straight lateral ribs and other traits. The ‘interfrontal’ is here identified as fused frontals. The separated ‘frontals’ are here identified as prefrontals.

Jenkins et al. showed the skull raised like a toilet seat cover during feeding, rather than opening the mandible on this flattened bottom feeder.

Figure 1. Greererpeton reduced to a blueprint of body parts. Here there may be one extra phalanx on pedal digit 5 and one missing on pedal digit 2 compared to sister taxa. So an alternate is shown with that repair. The skulls at left are juveniles.

Figure 2. Greererpeton reduced to a blueprint of body parts. Here there may be one extra phalanx on pedal digit 5 and one missing on pedal digit 2 compared to sister taxa. So an alternate is shown with that repair. The skulls at left are juveniles. Images are from the PhD thesis of Step;hen Godfrey 1986.

Greererpeton burkemorani (Romer 1969, Smithson 1982, Godfrey 1989; Early Carboniferous, 320 mya; 1.5 m in length). Godfrey thought it nested closer to Proterogyrinus than to Ichthyostega. Here Greererpeton nests as an offshoot of the temnospondyls along with Gerrothorax (Fig. 1).

The skull was flattened with orbits on top of the skull. The lacrimal does not contact the naris. The torso included some 41 presacral vertebrae. The ribs were robust and extended laterally. The pectoral girdle was robust. The limbs were small.

No complete pedes are known for Greererpeton, according to Godfrey 1989, but that may have changed since then. So I wonder if digit two had 3 phalanges, as in sister taxa, not 2. And I wonder if digit five had 3 phalanges, as in sister taxa, not 4 (Fig. 2) as illustrated in Godfrey 1989. I have not seen manus or pes data for Gerrothorax. If you have it, please send it.

Juveniles are known with larger orbits not so dorsally oriented, but otherwise similar (Fig. 2), but note the squamosal divides the postorbital and supratemporal in the adult, making one wonder if the difference is indeed ontogenetic.

Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.

Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.

References
Godfrey SJ 1986. The skeletal anatomy of Greererpeton burkemorani Romer 1969, an Upper Mississippian temnospondyl amphibian. PhD thesis, McGill University, Montreal.
Godfrey SJ 1989. The postcranial skeletal anatomy of the Carboniferous tetrapod Greererpeton burkemorani Romer, 1969. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences 323(1213):75-133.
Jenkins FA Jr, Shubin NH, Gates SM and Warren A 2008. Gerrothorax pulcherrimus from the Upper Triassic Fleming Fjord Formation of East Greenland and a reassessment of head lifting in temnospondyl feeding. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 28 (4): 935–950.
Nilsson T 1934. Vorläufige mitteilung über einen Stegocephalenfund aus dem Rhät Schonens. Geologiska Föreningens I Stockholm Förehandlingar 56:428-442.
Romer AS 1969. A temnospondylus labyrinthodont from the Lower Carboniferousw. Kirtlandia 6:1-20.
Smithson TR 1982. The cranial morphology of Greererpeton burkemorani Romer (Amphibia: Temnospondyli). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 76(1):29-90.

wiki/Greererpeton
wiki/Gerrothorax

Eocaecilia and Brachydectes: old mistakes and new insights

Updated February 9, 13 and 17, 2017 with more taxa added to the LRT and revisions to the skull bone identification.

Further updated March 18, 2017 with new skull bone identities for Brachydectes

Earlier we looked at the long-bodied
basal tetrapod sisters, Eocaecilia (Fig. 1) and Brachydectes (Fig 2). Adding new closely related taxa, like Adelogyrinus (Fig. 3) to the large reptile tree (LRT, 945 taxa, Fig. 5) illuminates several prior mistakes in bone identification and moves the long-bodied Microbrachis (Fig. 4) to the base of the extant caecilian clade. Here are the corrected images.

Figure 1. Eocaecilia skull with original and new bone identifications based on comparisons to sister taxa listed here. Like Brachydectes, the jaw joint has moved forward, beneath the jugal now fused to the quadratojugal creating a long retroarticular process, otherwise rare in amphibians. Also rare is the fusion of the squamosal with the postorbital.

Figure 1. Eocaecilia skull with original and new bone identifications based on comparisons to sister taxa listed here. Like Brachydectes, the jaw joint has moved forward, beneath the jugal now fused to the quadratojugal creating a long retroarticular process, otherwise rare in amphibians. Also rare is the fusion of the squamosal with the postorbital.

Eocaecilia micropodia
(Jenkins and Walsh 1993; Early Jurassic ~190 mya, ~8 cm in length) was derived from a sister to Adelospondylus and phylogenetically preceded modern caecilians. Originally the supratemporal was tentatively labeled a tabular and the postorbital was originally labeled a squamosal. The lacrimal and maxilla are coosified as are the ectopterygoid and palatine. The squamosal and quadratojugal are absent.

Unlike Eocaecilia,
extant caecilians do not have limbs. The tail is short or absent. The eyes are reduced and the skin has annular rings. More skull bones fuse together. A pair of tentacles between the eye and nostril appear to be used for chemical sensations (smelling). Some caecilians grow to 1.5 m in length.

Figure 2. The skull of Brachydectes revised. Like Eocaecilia, the squamosal and quadratojugal are missing.

Figure 2. The skull of Brachydectes revised. Like Eocaecilia, the squamosal and quadratojugal are missing.

Brachydectes newberryi
(Wellstead 1991; Latest Carboniferous) Similar in body length to EocaeceliaBrachydectes (Carboniferous, 43 cm long) was a lysorophian amphibian with a very small skull and vestigial limbs. The skull has a large orbit. Like its current sister, Eocaecilia (Fig. 1), Brachydectes lacked a squamosall and quadratojugal. The mandible was shorter than the skull. Brachydectes had up to 99 presacral vertebrae. Earlier I made the mistake of thinking this was a burrowing animal with tiny eyes close to the lacrimal. As in unrelated baphetids, the orbit is much larger in Brachydectes than the eyeball, even when the eyeball is enlarged as shown above.

Figure 3. Adelogyrinus skull. This less derived taxa provides clues to the identification of the bones in the skulls of Eocaecili and Brachydectes.

Figure 3. Adelogyrinus skull. This less derived taxa provides clues to the identification of the bones in the skulls of Eocaecili and Brachydectes.

Adelogyrinus simorhynchus
(Watson 1929; Viséan, Early Carboniferous, 340 mya) had a shorter, fish-like snout and longer cranium. Note the loss of the otic notch and the posterior displacement of the tiny postorbital.

Dolichopareias disjectus 
(Watson 1929; 1889, 101, 17 Royal Scottish Museum) helps one understand the fusion patterns in Adelospondylus and Adelogyrinus (Fig. 3).

Figure 4. Microbrachis slightly revised with a new indented supratemporal here rotated to the lateral side of the skull above the squamosal and quadratojugal. Otherwise this image is from Carroll, who did not indent the supratemporal.

Figure 4. Microbrachis slightly revised with a new indented supratemporal here rotated to the lateral side of the skull above the squamosal and quadratojugal. Otherwise this image is from Carroll, who did not indent the supratemporal.

Figure 5. Microbrachis skull in several views. Note the freehand reconstruction offered by Vallin and Laurin 2008 (ghosted beneath) does not match the shapes traced from the in situ drawing also presented by them. This is the source of the supratemporal indent in figure 4.

Figure 5. Microbrachis skull in several views. Note the freehand reconstruction offered by Vallin and Laurin 2008 (ghosted beneath) does not match the shapes traced from the in situ drawing also presented by them. This is the source of the supratemporal indent in figure 4.

Microbrachis
(Fritsch 1875) Middle Pennsylvanian, Late Carboniferous ~300 mya, ~15 cm in length, is THE holotype microsaur, which makes all of its descendants microsaurs. So extant caecilians are microsaurs, another clade that is no longer extinct.

Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.

Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.

Thank you for your patience
to those awaiting replies to their comments. It took awhile to clean up this portion of the LRT with reference to better data and new sisters. I should be able to attend to those comments shortly.

References
Brough MC and Brough J 1967. Studies on early tetrapods. II.  Microbrachis, the type microsaur. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 252B:107-165.
Carroll RL 1967. An Adelogyrinid Lepospondyl Amphibian from the Upper Carboniferous: Canadian Journal of Zoology 45(1):1-16.
Carroll RL and Gaskill P 1978. The order Microsauria. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 211 pp.
Fritsch A 1875. Fauna der Gaskohle des Pilsener und Rakonitzer Beckens. Sitzungsberichte der königliche böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften in Prag. Jahrgang 70–79.
Jenkins FA and Walsh M 1993. An Early Jurassic caecilian with limbs. Nature 365: 246–250.
Jenkins FA, Walsh DM and Carroll RL 2007. Anatomy of Eocaecilia micropodia, a limbed caecilian of the Early Jurassic. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 158(6): 285-366.
Vallin G and Laurin M 2004. Cranial morphology and affinities of Microbrachis, and a reappraisal of the phylogeny and lifestyle of the first amphibians. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology: Vol. 24 (1): 56-72 online pdf
Watson DMS 1929. The Carboniferous Amphibia of Scotland. Palaeontologia Hungarica 1:223-252
Wellstead C F 1991
. Taxonomic revision of the Lysorophia, Permo-Carboniferous lepospondyl amphibians. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 209: 1–90.

wiki/Adelospondylus
wiki/Adelogyrinus
wiki/Dolichopareias
wiki/Eocaecilia
wiki/Brachydectes
wiki/Microbrachis

Pederpes gets the DGS treatment

Updated March 15, 2017 with higher resolution data. 

The first known basal tetrapod with a five-toed pes is
Pederpes finneyae (Clack 2002; Tournasian, early Carboniferous, 348mya; 1m in est. length) and it is known from a fairly complete articulated skeleton. In an attempt to reconstruct the skull I have colored elements (Fig. 1) and moved those tracings to a reconstruction in which some of the broken loose pieces have been replaced to their in vivo positions.

The lacrimal, maxilla and jugal
have broken parts that fit together like puzzle pieces. I did not realize the premaxilla was rotated, along with the lower jaw tip, such that in appeared in more dorsal view.

Figure 2. Pederpes skull elements returned to their in vivo positions. Skull roof is shown rotated to the picture plane, but in life would have been flat and seen edge-on. This is a revised reconstruction based on higher resolution data.

Figure 1. Pederpes skull elements returned to their in vivo positions. Skull roof is shown rotated to the picture plane, but in life would have been flat and seen edge-on. This is a revised reconstruction based on higher resolution data.

In the large reptile tree
Pederpes now nests with Whatcheeria.

References
Clack JA 2002. An early tetrapod from ‘Romer’s Gap’. Nature. 418 (6893): 72–76.

Trusting then testing Colosteus

Another short one today,
as I’m learning that you can’t trust the flat-skull reconstruction(s) of Colosteus, another basal tetrapod (Figs. 1,2) traditionally considered a temnospondyl. 

Figure 1. Traditional figure of Colosteus as a flat-headed temnospondyl.

Figure 1. Traditional figure of Colosteus as a flat-headed temnospondyl.

A little digging into the literature
reveals the holotype had a different look (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Colosteus holotype drawing of the fossil in situ from Hook 1983 compared to the closely related Osteolepis.

Figure 2. Colosteus holotype drawing of the fossil in situ from Hook 1983 compared to the closely related Osteolepis. The torso drawing includes part of the skull. The forelimb is tiny and pink here. Four fingers were present. Note the giant dentary fang.

At present
Colosteus is a sister to the pre-tetrapod, Osteolepis. in the large reptile tree (not yet updated). Which means if Colosteus is a tetrapod (it has a vestigial forelimbs with four fingers), then tetrapods had a second sterile origin and Colosteus is part of that short radiation, not the main line leading to amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that ran through Acanthostega and Ichthyostega.

Hook 1983 reports on the history of this specimen:
“The first report of fossil vertebrates from the Ohio Diamond Coal Company Mines at Linton was given by J. S. Newberry in 1856; it included a brief description of Pygopterus scutellatus, a supposedly new species of paleoniscoid fish. Although no figures were supplied or specific specimens adequately described, a general picture of a heavily scaled, elongate form with flattened head and pointed snout was established.” 

“In 1869, E. D. Cope erected the batrachian genus Colosteus on the basis of Linton material lent him by Newberry. Cope cited three species, C. crassiscutatus, C. marshii and C. foveatus, and provided measurements by which the type specimens can be identified today. However, Cope later admitted (1871 a, p. 41) that in describing the type species, C. crassiscutatus, he had “overlooked” Newberry’s original account of P. scutellatus, thereby implying that both taxa were inadvertently based on the same specimen. Since Pygopterus was (and is) a valid fish genus, and the material in question was certainly not piscine (Cope, 1873), Cope recognized the proper combination of Colosteus scutellatus (Newberry, 1856) for the type species.”

Here’s a little information
the fish genus, Pygopterus (Permian – Triassic, Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Pygopterus, the Permian-Triassic fish with which Colosteus was originally confused.

Figure 3. Pygopterus, the Permian-Triassic fish with which Colosteus was originally confused.

There is much more to this story in Hook 1983.
PDF online here. If there are fossils that demonstrate that some specimens of Colosteus were indeed flat-headed, let me know. The flat-head reconstruction has to have some basis in the fossil record.

Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.

Figure 6. Subset of the large reptile tree focusing on basal tetrapods, updated with Gerrothorax.

References
Cope ED 1869. Synopsis of the extinct Batrachia, Reptilia, and Aves ofNorth America. Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc., vol. 14, pp. 1-252.
Hook RW 1983. Colosteus scutellatus (Newberry), a primitive temnospondyl amphbian from the Middle Pennsylvanian of Linton, Ohio. American Museum Novitates 2770:1-41. PDF online
Newberry JS 1856. Description of several new genera and species of fossil fishes from the Carboniferous strata of Ohio. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, vol. 8, pp. 96-100.

wiki/Colosteus