Field of Science

Platypus-like Hupehsuchian from Early Triassic of China

Cheng, L., Motani, R.,  Jiang, D., Yan, C., Tintori, A. and O. Rieppel. 2019. Early Triassic marine reptile representing the oldest record of unusually small eyes in reptiles indicating non-visual prey detection. Scientific Reports 9, number 152. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37754-6

Abstract - The end-Permian mass extinction (EPME) led to reorganization of marine predatory communities, through introduction of air-breathing top predators, such as marine reptiles. We report two new specimens of one such marine reptile, Eretmorhipis carrolldongi, from the Lower Triassic of Hubei, China, revealing superficial convergence with the modern duckbilled platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), a monotreme mammal. 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. The specimens also have a rigid body with triangular bony blades protruding from the back. The small eyes likely played reduced roles during foraging in this animal, as with extant amniotes (group containing mammals and reptiles) with similarly small eyes. Mechanoreceptors on the bill of the animal were probably used for prey detection instead. The specimens represent the oldest record of amniotes with extremely reduced visual capacity, utilizing non-visual cues for prey detection. The discovery reveals that the ecological diversity of marine predators was already high in the late Early Triassic, and challenges the traditional view that the ecological diversification of marine reptiles was delayed following the EPME.

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