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Concept: Mesozoic


Defecation in communal latrines is a common behaviour of extant mammals widely distributed among megaherbivores. This behaviour has key social functions with important biological and ecological implications. Herbivore communal latrines are only documented among mammals and their fossil record is exceptionally restricted to the late Cenozoic. Here we report the discovery of several massive coprolite associations in the Middle-Late Triassic of the Chañares Formation, Argentina, which represent fossil communal latrines based on a high areal density, small areal extension and taphonomic attributes. Several lines of evidence (size, morphology, abundance and coprofabrics) and their association with kannemeyeriiform dicynodonts indicate that these large synapsids produced the communal latrines and had a gregarious behaviour comparable to that of extant megaherbivores. This is the first evidence of megaherbivore communal latrines in non-mammal vertebrates, indicating that this mammal-type behaviour was present in distant relatives of mammals, and predates its previous oldest record by 220 Mya.

Concepts: Triassic, Ecology, Mesozoic, Permian, Fossil, Synapsid, Paleontology, Dinosaur


Secondary adaptation to aquatic life occurred independently in several amniote lineages, including reptiles during the Mesozoic and mammals during the Cenozoic. These evolutionary shifts to aquatic environments imply major morphological modifications, especially of the feeding apparatus. Mesozoic (250-65 Myr) marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mosasaurid squamates, crocodiles, and turtles, exhibit a wide range of adaptations to aquatic feeding and a broad overlap of their tooth morphospaces with those of Cenozoic marine mammals. However, despite these multiple feeding behavior convergences, suction feeding, though being a common feeding strategy in aquatic vertebrates and in marine mammals in particular, has been extremely rarely reported for Mesozoic marine reptiles.

Concepts: Synapsid, Plesiosaur, Mammal, Amniote, Mesozoic, Dinosaur, Cretaceous, Reptile


The extinct group of the Pycnodontiformes is one of the most characteristic components of the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic fish faunas. These ray-finned fishes, which underwent an explosive morphological diversification during the Late Cretaceous, are generally regarded as typical shell-crushers. Here we report unusual cutting-type dentitions from the Paleogene of Morocco which are assigned to a new genus of highly specialized pycnodont fish. This peculiar taxon represents the last member of a new, previously undetected 40-million-year lineage (Serrasalmimidae fam. nov., including two other new genera and Polygyrodus White, 1927) ranging back to the early Late Cretaceous and leading to exclusively carnivorous predatory forms, unique and unexpected among pycnodonts. Our discovery indicates that latest Cretaceous-earliest Paleogene pycnodonts occupied more diverse trophic niches than previously thought, taking advantage of the apparition of new prey types in the changing marine ecosystems of this time interval. The evolutionary sequence of trophic specialization characterizing this new group of pycnodontiforms is strikingly similar to that observed within serrasalmid characiforms, from seed- and fruit-eating pacus to flesh-eating piranhas.

Concepts: Mesozoic, Carnivore, Piranha, Animal, Cenozoic, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Dinosaur, Cretaceous


An articulated and partially preserved skeleton of an ichthyosaur was found in the Upper Jurassic (Upper Kimmeridgian) Katrol Formation exposed at a site south of the village Lodai in Kachchh district, Gujarat (western India). Here we present a detailed description and inferred taxonomic relationship of the specimen. The present study revealed that the articulated skeleton belongs to the family Ophthalmosauridae. The new discovery from India further improves the depauperate fossil record of ichthyosaurs from the former Gondwanan continents. Based on the preserved length of the axial skeleton and anterior part of the snout and taking into account the missing parts of the skull and postflexural region, it is suggested that the specimen may represent an adult possibly reaching a length of 5.0-5.5 m. The widespread occurrence of ophthalmosaurids in the Upper Jurassic deposits of western Tethys, Madagascar, South America and India points to possible faunal exchanges between the western Tethys and Gondwanan continents through a southern seaway.

Concepts: Ichthyosaur, Gondwana, Triassic, South America, Cretaceous, Mesozoic, Ophthalmosaurus, Jurassic


Plesiosaurians are an extinct group of highly derived Mesozoic marine reptiles with a global distribution that spans 135 million years from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous. During their long evolutionary history they maintained a unique body plan with two pairs of large wing-like flippers, but their locomotion has been a topic of debate for almost 200 years. Key areas of controversy have concerned the most efficient biologically possible limb stroke, e.g. whether it consisted of rowing, underwater flight, or modified underwater flight, and how the four limbs moved in relation to each other: did they move in or out of phase? Previous studies have investigated plesiosaur swimming using a variety of methods, including skeletal analysis, human swimmers, and robotics. We adopt a novel approach using a digital, three-dimensional, articulated, free-swimming plesiosaur in a simulated fluid. We generated a large number of simulations under various joint degrees of freedom to investigate how the locomotory repertoire changes under different parameters. Within the biologically possible range of limb motion, the simulated plesiosaur swims primarily with its forelimbs using an unmodified underwater flight stroke, essentially the same as turtles and penguins. In contrast, the hindlimbs provide relatively weak thrust in all simulations. We conclude that plesiosaurs were forelimb-dominated swimmers that used their hind limbs mainly for maneuverability and stability.

Concepts: Pliosaur, Evolution, Mesozoic, Dinosaur, Reptile, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Plesiosaur


Mammals dominate modern terrestrial herbivore ecosystems, whereas extant herbivorous reptiles are limited in diversity and body size. The evolution of reptile herbivory and its relationship to mammalian diversification is poorly understood with respect to climate and the roles of predation pressure and competition for food resources. Here, we describe a giant fossil acrodontan lizard recovered with a diverse mammal assemblage from the late middle Eocene Pondaung Formation of Myanmar, which provides a historical test of factors controlling body size in herbivorous squamates. We infer a predominately herbivorous feeding ecology for the new acrodontan based on dental anatomy, phylogenetic relationships and body size. Ranking body masses for Pondaung Formation vertebrates indicates that the lizard occupied a size niche among the larger herbivores and was larger than most carnivorous mammals. Paleotemperature estimates of Pondaung Formation environments based on the body size of the new lizard are approximately 2-5°C higher than modern. These results indicate that competitive exclusion and predation by mammals did not restrict body size evolution in these herbivorous squamates, and elevated temperatures relative to modern climates during the Paleogene greenhouse may have resulted in the evolution of gigantism through elevated poikilothermic metabolic rates and in response to increases in floral productivity.

Concepts: Carnivore, Predation, Reptile, Herbivore, Omnivore, Mesozoic, Mammal, Animal


Following the Permo-Triassic Extinction, large-bodied diapsid reptiles-with a body length >1 m-rapidly expanded their ecological roles. This diversification is reflected in enormous disparity in the development of the rostrum and adductor chamber. However, it is unclear how marked the diversity of the feeding apparatus was in contemporary small-bodied diapsids. Here we describe the remarkably small skull (2.5 cm long) of a saurian reptile, Colobops noviportensis, gen. et sp. nov., from the Triassic New Haven Arkose of Connecticut, USA. The taxon possesses an exceptionally reinforced snout and strikingly expanded supratemporal fossae for adductor musculature relative to any known Mesozoic or Recent diapsid of similar size. Our phylogenetic analyses support C. noviportensis as an early diverging pan-archosaur. Colobops noviportensis reveals extraordinary disparity of the feeding apparatus in small-bodied early Mesozoic diapsids, and a suite of morphologies, functionally related to a powerful bite, unknown in any small-bodied diapsid.

Concepts: Archosauromorpha, Sauria, Mesozoic, Ichthyosaur, Synapsid, Diapsid, Dinosaur, Reptile


Most modern mammals, including strictly diurnal species, exhibit sensory adaptations to nocturnal activity that are thought to be the result of a prolonged nocturnal phase or ‘bottleneck’ during early mammalian evolution. Nocturnality may have allowed mammals to avoid antagonistic interactions with diurnal dinosaurs during the Mesozoic. However, understanding the evolution of mammalian activity patterns is hindered by scant and ambiguous fossil evidence. While ancestral reconstructions of behavioural traits from extant species have the potential to elucidate these patterns, existing studies have been limited in taxonomic scope. Here, we use an extensive behavioural dataset for 2,415 species from all extant orders to reconstruct ancestral activity patterns across Mammalia. We find strong support for the nocturnal origin of mammals and the Cenozoic appearance of diurnality, although cathemerality (mixed diel periodicity) may have appeared in the late Cretaceous. Simian primates are among the earliest mammals to exhibit strict diurnal activity, some 52-33 million years ago. Our study is consistent with the hypothesis that temporal partitioning between early mammals and dinosaurs during the Mesozoic led to a mammalian nocturnal bottleneck, but also demonstrates the need for improved phylogenetic estimates for Mammalia.

Concepts: Primate, Extinction, Mesozoic, Paleontology, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Cretaceous, Dinosaur, Mammal


Stem mammaliaforms are forerunners to modern mammals, and they achieved considerable ecomorphological diversity in their own right. Recent discoveries suggest that eleutherodontids, a subclade of Haramiyida, were more species-rich during the Jurassic period in Asia than previously recognized. Here we report a new Jurassic eleutherodontid mammaliaform with an unusual mosaic of highly specialized characteristics, and the results of phylogenetic analyses that support the hypothesis that haramiyidans are stem mammaliaforms. The new fossil shows fossilized skin membranes that are interpreted to be for gliding and a mandibular middle ear with a unique character combination previously unknown in mammaliaforms. Incisor replacement is prolonged until well after molars are fully erupted, a timing pattern unique to most other mammaliaforms. In situ molar occlusion and a functional analysis reveal a new mode of dental occlusion: dual mortar-pestle occlusion of opposing upper and lower molars, probably for dual crushing and grinding. This suggests that eleutherodontids are herbivorous, and probably specialized for granivory or feeding on soft plant tissues. The inferred dietary adaptation of eleutherodontid gliders represents a remarkable evolutionary convergence with herbivorous gliders in Theria. These Jurassic fossils represent volant, herbivorous stem mammaliaforms associated with pre-angiosperm plants that appear long before the later, iterative associations between angiosperm plants and volant herbivores in various therian clades.

Concepts: Mammal, Trace fossil, Mesozoic, Dinosaur, Evolution, Fossil, Plant


Previously known only from isolated teeth and lower jaw fragments recovered from the Cretaceous and Palaeogene of the Southern Hemisphere, the Gondwanatheria constitute the most poorly known of all major mammaliaform radiations. Here we report the discovery of the first skull material of a gondwanatherian, a complete and well-preserved cranium from Upper Cretaceous strata in Madagascar that we assign to a new genus and species. Phylogenetic analysis strongly supports its placement within Gondwanatheria, which are recognized as monophyletic and closely related to multituberculates, an evolutionarily successful clade of Mesozoic mammals known almost exclusively from the Northern Hemisphere. The new taxon is the largest known mammaliaform from the Mesozoic of Gondwana. Its craniofacial anatomy reveals that it was herbivorous, large-eyed and agile, with well-developed high-frequency hearing and a keen sense of smell. The cranium exhibits a mosaic of primitive and derived features, the disparity of which is extreme and probably reflective of a long evolutionary history in geographic isolation.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Evolution, Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, Species, Antarctica, Mesozoic, Mammal, Cretaceous