Field of Science

Largocephalosaurus, a New Eosauropterygian from the Middle Triassic of China

Cheng, L., Chen, X., Zeng, X., and Y. Cai. 2012. A new eosauropterygian (Diapsida: Sauropterygia) from the Middle Triassic of Luoping, Yunnan Province. Journal of Earth Science 23:33-40. DOI: 10.1007/s12583-012-0231-z

Abstract - A new eosauropterygian, Largocephalosaurus polycarpon gen. et sp. nov., was described based on a skeleton from the Middle Triassic of Luoping, Yunnan Province, southwestern China. The new taxon is characterized by a big skull, paired frontal, laterally expanded upper temporal fossa, anterior process of squamosal entering orbit, robust teeth with basally expanded crown and blunt tip, short cervical region, distinctly elongated transverse process of the dorsal vertebrae, short and broad dorsal ribs, stout gastralia, scapula with distinctly posterodorsally extending blade, distinctly robust humerus, eleven carpal ossifications, and a manual fomula of 2-3-4-5-5. A phylogenetic analysis suggests that Largocephalosaurus is the basal-most member of a clade including Wumengosaurus, European pachypleurosaurs, and Nothosauroidea.

Tikiguania Is Not From the Triassic

Hutchinson, M. H., Skinner, A., and M. S. Y. Lee. 2012. Tikiguania and the antiquity of squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes). Biology Online published before print. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.1216

Abstract - Tikiguania estesi is widely accepted to be the earliest member of Squamata, the reptile group that includes lizards and snakes. It is based on a lower jaw from the Late Triassic of India, described as a primitive lizard related to agamids and chamaeleons. However, Tikiguania is almost indistinguishable from living agamids; a combined phylogenetic analysis of morphological and molecular data places it with draconines, a prominent component of the modern Asian herpetofauna. It is unlikely that living agamids have retained the Tikiguania morphotype unchanged for over 216 Myr; it is much more conceivable that Tikiguania is a Quaternary or Late Tertiary agamid that was preserved in sediments derived from the Triassic beds that have a broad superficial exposure. This removes the only fossil evidence for lizards in the Triassic. Studies that have employed Tikiguana for evolutionary, biogeographical and molecular dating inferences need to be reassessed.                 

New Postcranial material of Proterochampsa barrionuevoi from the Upper Triassic of Argentina

Trotteyn, M. J. 2011. Material postcraneano de Proterochampsa barrionuevoi Reig, 1959 (Diapsida: Archosauriformes) del Triásico Superior del centro-oeste de Argentina. Ameghiniana 48:424-446
Resumen - Los proterochámpsidos son miembros del clado Archosauriformes y se distinguen del resto por presentar cráneo predominantemente deprimido, transversalmente expandido en el extremo posterior, hocico angosto y alargado longitudinalmente, y narinas ubicadas sobre la línea media, ausencia de postfrontal y presencia de pie asimétrico. La familia Proterochampsidae se compone de cinco géneros presentes en las formaciones triásicas de Argentina y Brasil. En esta familia se incluye la especie argentina Proterochampsa barrionuevoi Reig, proveniente de la Formación Ischigualasto (Triásico Superior). Este taxón era conocido por el cráneo y algunas vértebras cervicales, pero el resto del material poscraneano era totalmente desconocido hasta el presente. En esta contribución se describe detalladamente un ejemplar de Proterochampsa barrionuevoi (PVSJ 606), incluyendo el cráneo, toda la serie vertebral, escápulas, coracoides, cintura pélvica, húmero derecho, radio y ulna del mismo lado, ambos fémures y miembro posterior derecho casi completo. Asimismo se presenta una diagnosis enmendada para la especie, constando de los siguientes caracteres neurocraneales diagnósticos: depresión semilunar expuesta ventrolateralmente, fosa basiesfenoidea rodeada rostrolateralmente por un reborde con forma de “V” con sus ramas convexas. Entre los caracteres que diferencian a P. barrionuevoi de la especie brasilera P. nodosa se citan: angostamiento anterior del hocico menos gradual que el de P. nodosa, occiput más deprimido, narinas lanceoladas con ambos extremos aguzados y frontal menos irregular que el de P. nodosa.

Abstract - Proterochampsids are members of the clade Archosauriformes, a group distinguished from others because of its depressed skulls transversely expanded at the posterior end, narrow and longitudinally long snout, nares located close to the midline, absence of postfrontals, and presence of an assymmetric pes. The family Proterochampsidae includes five genera recorded in Triassic formations of Argentina and Brazil. In this family is included the Argentinean species Proterochampsa barrionuevoi Reig, from the Late Triassic Ischigualasto Formation. This taxon was known from skulls and cervical vertebrae, but the rest of the postcranium remained unknown until now. Herein, a new and almost complete specimen of Proterochampsa barrionuevoi is described in detail (PVSJ 606). The specimen includes skull, complete vertebral series, scapulae, coracoids, pelvic girdle, right humerus, right radius and ulna, both femora, and complete right hindlimb. An emended diagnosis considering neurocranial features –semilunar depression ventrolaterally exposed, basisphenoidal fossa surround by a rostrolateraly V-shaped ridge with convex branches– is provided. The features distinguishing P. barrionuevoi from the Brazilian species P. nodosa are: snout becoming narrow anteriorly in a less gradual manner than in P. nodosa, lower occiput, nares lanceolate with narrow anterior and posterior ends, and frontal less irregular that in P. nodosa.

Oldest Known Dinosaurian Nesting Site

Here is the abstract and link to the article discussed in the linked news report from yesterday.

Reisz, R. R., Evans, D. C., Roberts, E. M., Sues, H.-D., and A. M. Yates. 2012. Oldest known dinosaurian nesting site and reproductive biology of the Early Jurassic sauropodomorph Massospondylus. PNAS online before print. DOI 10.1073/pnas.1109385109

Abstract - The extensive Early Jurassic continental strata of southern Africa have yielded an exceptional record of dinosaurs that includes scores of partial to complete skeletons of the sauropodomorph Massospondylus, ranging from embryos to large adults. In 1976 an incomplete egg clutch including in ovo embryos of this dinosaur, the oldest known example in the fossil record, was collected from a road-cut talus, but its exact provenance was uncertain. An excavation program at the site started in 2006 has yielded multiple in situ egg clutches, documenting the oldest known dinosaurian nesting site, predating other similar sites by more than 100 million years. The presence of numerous clutches of eggs, some of which contain embryonic remains, in at least four distinct horizons within a small area, provides the earliest known evidence of complex reproductive behavior including site fidelity and colonial nesting in a terrestrial vertebrate. Thus, fossil and sedimentological evidence from this nesting site provides empirical data on reproductive strategies in early dinosaurs. A temporally calibrated optimization of dinosaurian reproductive biology not only demonstrates the primary significance of the Massospondylus nesting site, but also provides additional insights into the initial stages of the evolutionary history of dinosaurs, including evidence that deposition of eggs in a tightly organized single layer in a nest evolved independently from brooding.

Aetobarbakinoides brasiliensis, a New Aetosaur from the Late Triassic of Brazil

This is an interesting new specimen from the Santa Maria Formation of Brazil. I've had the chance to personally study this material and although poorly preserved and despite possesses a radial patterning of the dorsal osteoderms it clearly does not belong to the South American genera Aetosauroides or Neoaetosauroides mainly because of characteristics of the vertebrae. In fact, the vertebrae with their well developed accessory processes and lack of ventral keels strongly resemble those of desmatosuchines. This is supported by the phylogenetic analysis.

Notably this is the first aetosaur taxon to be diagnosed using postcranial characters rather than those of the osteoderms. Indeed only a few poorly preserved osteoderms are present in the specimen. I've argued in the past that despite the long use of armor ornamentation to diagnose aetosaur species, new specimens are demonstrating that these characters are highly convergent between hypothesized main aetosaur clades and caution must be used.

This paper also finds Aetosaurinae (sensu Parker, 2007) to be paraphyletic. Again this is not surprising given the poor support for the clade in the original analysis, the fact that Aetobarbakinoides possesses "Aetosaurinae"-like armor with desmatosuchine-like vertebrae, and the fact that lateral armor is lacking in this new taxon whereas lateral armor characters strongly affect the topology of Parker (2007). This is not surprising given that the analysis of Parker (2007) was explicitly testing the phylogenetic signal of lateral osteoderms in aetosaurs.

This analysis also recovers Aetosauroides outside of Stagonolepididiae (sensu Heckert and Lucas, 2000), which demonstrates the presence of non-stagonolepidid aetosaurs. Thus the names Stagonolepididae and Aetosauria cannot be used interchangeably (as they commonly are) as I cautioned in 2007.

There is much more work today with the phylogeny of the Aetosauria and many new undescribed specimens.  I am focusing on a lot of these in my ongoing PhD work.

Desojo, J. B., Ezcurra, M. D., and E. E. Kischlat. 2012. A new aetosaur genus (Archosauria: Pseudosuchia) from the early Late Triassic of southern Brazil. Zootaxa 3166:1-33.

Abstract - We describe the new aetosaur Aetobarbakinoides brasiliensis gen. et sp. nov. from the early Late Triassic (late Carnian early Norian) Brazilian Santa Maria Formation. The holotype is composed of a partial postcranium including several cervical and dorsal vertebrae and ribs, one anterior caudal vertebra, right scapula, right humerus, right tibia, partial right pes, and anterior and mid-dorsal paramedian osteoderms. Aetobarbakinoides is differentiated from other aetosaurs by the presence of cervical vertebrae with widely laterally extended prezygapophyses, mid-cervical vertebrae with anterior articular facet width more than 1.2 times wider than the posterior one, anterior caudal vertebrae with extremely anteroposteriorly short prezygapophyses, elongated humerus and tibia in relation to the axial skeleton, and paramedian osteoderms with a weakly raised anterior bar. A cladistic analysis recovered the new species as more derived than the South American genera Aetosauroides (late Carnian-early Norian) and Neoaetosauroides (late Norian-Rhaetian), and it is nested as the sister-taxon of an unnamed clade, composed of Typothoracisinae and Desmatosuchinae, due to the absence of a ventral keel in the cervical vertebrae. Aetobarbakinoides presents a skeletal anatomy previously unknown among South American aetosaurs, with the combination of presacral vertebrae with hyposphene, anteroposteriorly short and unkeeled cervical vertebrae, gracile limbs, and paramedian osteoderms with a weakly raised anterior bar. Aetobarbakinoides is among the oldest known aetosaurs together with Aetosauroides from Argentina and Brazil and Stagonolepis robertsoni from Scotland, indicating Aetobarbakinoides, which is one of the oldest known aetosaurs, is in agreement with an older origin for the group, as it is expected by the extensive ghost lineages at the base of the main pseudosuchian clades.

Evolution of Bipedality and Herbivory Among Triassic Dinosauromorphs

Note that this paper is in Japanese with an English version of the abstract.

Kubo, T. 2011. Evolution of bipedality and herbivory among Triassic dinosauromorphs. Memoir of the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum 10:55-62

Abstract - Discoveries of Triassic non-dinosaur dinosauromorphs since 2000 revealed that they were more widely spread chronologically and geographically than previously thought. A member of silesaurids, the sister clade of dinosaurs, Silesaurus was a quadrupedal and herbivorous animal that differs considerably from the condition previously assumed for the ancestor of dinosaurs that are bipedal and carnivorous. Currently, stance and diet of the common ancestor of dinosaurs are not clear. To redeem this situation, Ancestral State Reconstruction methods were conducted to infer how quadrupedality and herbivory were evolved among dinosauromorphs. The results of analyses indicate that quadrupedal stance evolved only among silesaurids. Herbivorous diet was readily evolved from carnivorous diet among Dinosauromorpha and the ancestral state reconstruction using likelihood methods indicated that the possibility of the common ancestor of dinosaurs being herbivore is more than 60%.

Two New Triassic Temnospondyl Papers in the Journal Palaeontology

Witzmann, F., Schoch, R. R., Hilger, A., and N. Kardjilov. 2012. Braincase, palatoquadrate and ear region of the plagiosaurid Gerrothorax pulcherrimus from the Middle Triassic of Germany. Palaeontology 55:31-50. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2011.01116.x

Abstract - The complete neurocranium plus palatoquadrate of the plagiosaurid temnospondyl Gerrothorax pulcherrimus from the Middle Triassic of Germany is described for the first time, based on outer morphological observations and micro-CT scanning. The exoccipitals are strong elements with paroccipital processes and well-separated occipital condyles. Anterolaterally, the exoccipitals contact the otics, which are mediolaterally elongated and have massive lateral walls. The otics contact the basisphenoid, which shows well-developed sellar processes. Anteriorly, the basisphenoid is continuous with the sphenethmoid region. In its posterior portion, the sphenethmoid gives rise to robust, laterally directed laterosphenoid walls, a unique morphology among basal tetrapods. The palatoquadrate is extensively ossified. The quadrate portion overlaps the descending lamina of squamosal and ascending lamina of pterygoid anteriorly, almost contacting the epipterygoid laterally. The epipterygoid is a complex element and may be co-ossified with otics and laterosphenoid walls. It has a broad, sheet-like footplate and a horizontally aligned ascending process that contacts the laterosphenoid walls. The degree of ossification of the epipterygoid, however, is subject to individual variation obviously independent from ontogenetic changes. The stapes of Gerrothorax is a large, blade-like element that differs conspicuously from the plesiomorphic temnospondyl condition. It has a prominent anterolateral projection which has not been observed in other basal tetrapods. Morphology of neurocranium and palatoquadratum of Gerrothorax most closely resembles that of the Russian plagiosaurid Plagiosternum danilovi, although the elements are less ossified in the latter. The extensive endocranial ossification of Gerrothorax is consistent with the general high degree of ossification in the exo- and endoskeleton of this temnospondyl and supports the view that a strong endocranial ossification cannot be evaluated as a plesiomorphic character in basal tetrapods.

Dias-da-Silva, S., Sengupta, D. P., Cabriera, S. F., and L. R. Da Silva. 2012. The presence of Compsocerops (Brachyopoidea: Chigutisauridae) (Late Triassic) in southern Brazil with comments on chigutisaurid palaeobiogeography. Palaeontology 55:163-172. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2011.01120.x

Abstract - Chigutisauridae is the longest-lived trematosaurian clade (from early Triassic to early Cretaceous). They were reported in Argentina, Australia, India and South Africa. This contribution reports a putative chigutisaurid specimen in the Carnian of southern Brazil (Santa Maria Formation, Paraná Basin). The material comprises two skull fragments, a mandibular fragment, a clavicular blade and a humerus. Ontogenetic features point to an early development stage of the specimen. The presence of a long, straight and pointed tabular horn, which runs parallel to the skull midline towards its tip, and a distinctive projection in the posterior border of the postparietal indicates a close relationship of the Brazilian chigutisaurid with the Indian Compsocerops cosgriffi. Three distinctive and combined characters suggest that the Brazilian chigutisaurid is a distinctive specimen: the presence of an alar process of the jugal in the ventral margin of the orbit; jugal does not extend well beyond the anterior margin of the orbit; and tabular does not contact the parietal. These characters could justify the erection of a new taxon; however, they might reflect its immature ontogenetic stage as well. Accordingly, we attribute this new specimen to Compsocerops sp. Argentinean and Indian occurrences are dated as Norian, so the presence of a Carnian chigutisaurid in southern Brazil indicates that western Gondwana chigutisaurids have first occupied the Paraná Basin and later migrated towards west (to Argentina) and east (India). However, the presence of ghost chigutisaurid taxa cannot be dismissed, because their long temporal range contrasts with their still short (in comparison with other temnospondyl groups) geographic distribution. Hence, they might have been more geographically widespread than their fossil record suggests.