Lepidosauria (lizards, snakes, tuatara) is a globally distributed and ecologically important group of over 9,000 reptile species. The earliest fossil records are currently restricted to the Late Triassic and often dated to 227 million years ago (Mya). As these early records include taxa that are relatively derived in their morphology (e.g. Brachyrhinodon), an earlier unknown history of Lepidosauria is implied. However, molecular age estimates for Lepidosauria have been problematic; dates for the most recent common ancestor of all lepidosaurs range between approximately 226 and 289 Mya whereas estimates for crown-group Squamata (lizards and snakes) vary more dramatically: 179 to 294 Mya. This uncertainty restricts inferences regarding the patterns of diversification and evolution of Lepidosauria as a whole.
Continuous tooth replacement is common for tetrapods, but some groups of acrodont lepidosaurs have lost the ability to replace their dentition (monophyodonty). Acrodonty, where the tooth attaches to the apex of the jawbone, is an unusual form of tooth attachment that has been associated with the highly autapomorphic condition of monophyodonty. Beyond Lepidosauria, very little is known about the relationship between acrodonty and monophyodonty in other amniotes. We test for this association with a detailed study of the dentition of Opisthodontosaurus, an unusual Early Permian captorhinid eureptile with acrodont dentition. We provide clear evidence, both histological and morphological, that there were regular tooth replacement events in the lower jaw of Opisthodontosaurus, similar to its captorhinid relatives. Thus, our study of the oldest known amniote with an acrodont dentition shows that acrodonty does not inhibit tooth replacement, and that many of the characteristics assigned to lepidosaurian acrodonty are actually highly derived features of lepidosaurs that have resulted secondarily from a lack of tooth replacement. In the context of reptilian dental evolution, we propose the retention of the simple definition of acrodonty, which only pertains to the relative position of the tooth at the apex of the jaw, where the jaw possesses equal lingual and labial walls. This definition of implantation therefore focuses solely on the spatial relationship between the tooth and the jawbone, and separates this relationship from tooth development and replacement.
The patella (kneecap) is the largest and best-known of the sesamoid bones, postulated to confer biomechanical advantages including increasing joint leverage and reinforcing the tendon against compression. It has evolved several times independently in amniotes, but despite apparently widespread occurrence in lizards, the patella remains poorly characterised in this group and is, as yet, completely undescribed in their nearest extant relative Sphenodon (Rhynchocephalia). Through radiography, osteological and fossil studies we examined patellar presence in diverse lizard and lepidosauromorph taxa, and using computed tomography, dissection and histology we investigated in greater depth the anatomy and morphology of the patella in 16 lizard species and 19 Sphenodon specimens. We have found the first unambiguous evidence of a mineralised patella in Sphenodon, which appears similar to the patella of lizards and shares several gross and microscopic anatomical features. Although there may be a common mature morphology, the squamate patella exhibits a great deal of variability in development (whether from a cartilage anlage or not, and in the number of mineralised centres) and composition (bone, mineralised cartilage or fibrotendinous tissue). Unlike in mammals and birds, the patella in certain lizards and Sphenodon appears to be a polymorphic trait. We have also explored the evolution of the patella through ancestral state reconstruction, finding that the patella is ancestral for lizards and possibly Lepidosauria as a whole. Clear evidence of the patella in rhynchocephalian or stem lepidosaurian fossil taxa would clarify the evolutionary origin(s) of the patella, but due to the small size of this bone and the opportunity for degradation or loss we could not definitively conclude presence or absence in the fossils examined. The pattern of evolution in lepidosaurs is unclear but our data suggest that the emergence of this sesamoid may be related to the evolution of secondary ossification centres and/or changes in knee joint conformation, where enhancement of extensor muscle leverage would be more beneficial.
In this paper, we compare some of the neural strategies for sound localization and encoding interaural time differences (ITDs) in three predatory species of Reptilia, alligators, barn owls and geckos. Birds and crocodilians are sister groups among the extant archosaurs, while geckos are lepidosaurs. Despite the similar organization of their auditory systems, archosaurs and lizards use different strategies for encoding the ITDs that underlie localization of sound in azimuth. Barn owls encode ITD information using a place map, which is composed of neurons serving as labeled lines tuned for preferred spatial locations, while geckos may use a meter strategy or population code composed of broadly sensitive neurons that represent ITD via changes in the firing rate.
Animals that can be active both during day and night offer unique opportunities to identify factors that influence activity pattern. By experimental manipulations of temperatures under constant photoperiod, we aimed to determine if emergence, activity and thermoregulatory behaviour of juvenile tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) varied at different temperatures (20°C, 12°C and 5°C). To help clarify its activity pattern, we compared tuatara with two lizard species endemic of the South Island of New Zealand for which activity pattern is known and clearly defined: the nocturnal common gecko Woodworthia “Otago/Southland” and the diurnal McCann׳s skink Oligosoma maccanni. Tuatara showed similar responses to both species of lizards. Similar to the diurnal skinks, tuatara emerged quickly at 20°C and 12°C while nocturnal geckos took more time to emerge. Like nocturnal geckos, tuatara continued to be active at 5°C, but only during the day. Interestingly, tuatara shifted from diurno-nocturnal activity at 20°C and 12°C to being strictly diurnal at 5°C. We suggest that this temperature-dependent strategy maximises their survival during cold periods.
The present ultrastructural immunocytochemical study analyzes the localization of keratin-associated beta-proteins (beta-keratins) in the epidermis of the ancient reptile Sphenodon punctatus, a relict species adapted to mid-cold conditions. The epidermis comprises two main layers, indicated as beta- and alpha-keratin layers. The beta-layer contains small beta-proteins (beta-keratins) identified by using three different antibodies while the alpha-layer is poorly or not labeled for these proteins. Using other two antibodies directed against specific amino acid sequences identified in beta-proteins of lizard it results that a high-glycine beta-protein (HgG5) is specific for the beta-layer. Another antibody that recognizes glycine-cysteine medium-rich beta-proteins (HgGC10) immuno-stains beta- and alpha-layers. This pattern of distribution suggests that both beta- and alpha-layers contain beta-proteins of different types that associate and replace intermediate-filament alpha-keratins during the terminal differentiation of keratinocytes. Therefore the different epidermal layers of the epidermis in S. punctatus, characterized by a specific cytology, material properties and consistency appear to derive from the prevalent type of beta-proteins synthesized in each epidermal layer and not from the alternation between beta- and alpha-keratins. The present observations are discussed in comparison to previous results from lizard epidermis and indicate that beta-keratins correspond to keratin-associated proteins that through their internal beta-pleated region are capable to form filaments in addition to intermediate filaments keratins.