Herein we describe a new rhynchocephalian taxon from the Middle Jurassic of Patagonia, Argentina, representing the first Jurassic record of the group in South America. The new taxon, consisting of a complete dentary, is ascribed to Sphenodontia based on the presence of a deep and wide Meckelian groove, long posterior process, well-developed coronoid process, and acrodont teeth showing dental regionalization including successional, alternate hatchling, and additional series. This allocation is reinforced by a phylogenetic analysis that places the new taxon in a basal position within a clade of sphenodontians that excludes Diphydontosaurus and Planocephalosaurus. Additionally, the new taxon clusters within a Gondwanan clade with the Indian Godavarisaurus from the Jurassic Kota Formation, sharing the presence of recurved and relatively large posterior successional teeth that are ribbed and bear a peculiar anterolingual groove. This sister-group relationship is intriguing from a palaeobiogeographical viewpoint, as it suggests some degree of endemism during the initial stages of the breakup of Pangaea. We also discuss the ontogenetic stage of the new taxon and provide insights on the evolution of successional dentition in rhynchocephalians.
Rhynchocephalian lepidosaurs, though once widespread worldwide, are represented today only by the tuatara (
) of New Zealand. After their apparent early Cretaceous extinction in Laurasia, they survived in southern continents. In South America, they are represented by different lineages of Late Cretaceous eupropalinal forms until their disappearance by the Cretaceous/Palaeogene (K/Pg) boundary. We describe here the only unambiguous Palaeogene rhynchocephalian from South America; this new taxon is a younger species of the otherwise Late Cretaceous genus
. Phylogenetic analysis confirms the allocation of the genus to the clade Opisthodontia. The new form from the Palaeogene of Central Patagonia is much smaller than
from the Late Cretaceous of Northern Patagonia. The new species shows that at least one group of rhynchocephalians not related to the extant
survived in South America beyond the K/Pg extinction event. Furthermore, it adds to other trans-K/Pg ectotherm tetrapod taxa, suggesting that the end-Cretaceous extinction affected Patagonia more benignly than the Laurasian landmasses.
Snakes represent one of the most dramatic examples of the evolutionary versatility of the vertebrate body plan, including body elongation, limb loss, and skull kinesis. However, understanding the earliest steps toward the acquisition of these remarkable adaptations is hampered by the very limited fossil record of early snakes. Here, we shed light on the acquisition of the snake body plan using micro–computed tomography scans of the first three-dimensionally preserved skulls of the legged snake Najash and a new phylogenetic hypothesis. These findings elucidate the initial sequence of bone loss that gave origin to the modern snake skull. Morphological and molecular analyses including the new cranial data provide robust support for an extensive basal radiation of early snakes with hindlimbs and pelves, demonstrating that this intermediate morphology was not merely a transient phase between limbed and limbless body plans.
Understanding the evolution of a Bauplan starts with discriminating phylogenetic signal from adaptation and the latter from exaptation in the observed biodiversity. Whether traits have predated, accompanied, or followed evolution of particular functions is the basic inference to establish the type of explanations required to determine morphological evolution. To accomplish this, we focus in a particular group of vertebrates, the anurans. Frogs and toads have a unique Bauplan among vertebrates, with a set of postcranial features that have been considered adaptations to jumping locomotion since their evolutionary origin. This interpretation is frequently stated but rarely tested in scientific literature. We test this assumption reconstructing the locomotor capabilities of the earliest known salientian, Triadobatrachus massinoti. This extinct taxon exhibits a mosaic of features that have traditionally been considered as representing an intermediate stage in the evolution of the anuran Bauplan, some of which were also linked to jumping skills. We considered T. massinoti in an explicit evolutionary framework by means of multivariate analyses and comparative phylogenetic methods. We used length measurements of major limb bones of 188 extant limbed amphibians (frogs and salamanders) and lizards as a morphological proxy of observed locomotor behavior. Our findings show that limb data correlate with locomotion, regardless of phylogenetic relatedness, and indicate that salamander-like lateral undulatory movements were the main mode of locomotion of T. massinoti. These results contrast with recent hypotheses and indicate that derived postcranial features that T. massinoti shared with anurans might have been later co-opted as exaptations in jumping frogs.
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