Live birth has evolved many times independently in vertebrates, such as mammals and diverse groups of lizards and snakes. However, live birth is unknown in the major clade Archosauromorpha, a group that first evolved some 260 million years ago and is represented today by birds and crocodilians. Here we report the discovery of a pregnant long-necked marine reptile (Dinocephalosaurus) from the Middle Triassic (∼245 million years ago) of southwest China showing live birth in archosauromorphs. Our discovery pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the clade by roughly 50 million years, and shows that there is no fundamental reason that archosauromorphs could not achieve live birth. Our phylogenetic models indicate that Dinocephalosaurus determined the sex of their offspring by sex chromosomes rather than by environmental temperature like crocodilians. Our results provide crucial evidence for genotypic sex determination facilitating land-water transitions in amniotes.
A small accumulation of bones from the Norian (Upper Triassic) of the Seazza Brook Valley (Carnic Prealps, Northern Italy) was originally (1989) identified as a gastric pellet made of pterosaur skeletal elements. The specimen has been reported in literature as one of the very few cases of gastric ejecta containing pterosaur bones since then. However, the detailed analysis of the bones preserved in the pellet, their study by X-ray microCT, and the comparison with those of basal pterosaurs do not support a referral to the Pterosauria. Comparison with the osteology of a large sample of Middle-Late Triassic reptiles shows some affinity with the protorosaurians, mainly with Langobardisaurus pandolfii that was found in the same formation as the pellet. However, differences with this species suggest that the bones belong to a similar but distinct taxon. The interpretation as a gastric pellet is confirmed.
The holotype and only known specimen of the enigmatic small reptile Elachistosuchus huenei Janensch, 1949 from the Upper Triassic (Norian) Arnstadt Formation of Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) is redescribed using μCT scans of the material. This re-examination revealed new information on the morphology of this taxon, including previously unknown parts of the skeleton such as the palate, braincase, and shoulder girdle. Elachistosuchus is diagnosed especially by the presence of the posterolateral process of the frontal, the extension of the maxillary tooth row to the posterior margin of the orbit, the free posterior process of the jugal, and the notched anterior margin of the interclavicle. Phylogenetic analyses using two recently published character-taxon matrices recovered conflicting results for the phylogenetic position of Elachistosuchus-either as an archosauromorph, as a lepidosauromorph or as a more basal, non-saurian diapsid. These different placements highlight the need of a thorough revision of critical taxa and new character sets used for inferring neodiapsid relationships.
Sauria is the crown-group of Diapsida and is subdivided into Lepidosauromorpha and Archosauromorpha, comprising a high percentage of the diversity of living and fossil tetrapods. The split between lepidosauromorphs and archosauromorphs (the crocodile-lizard, or bird-lizard, divergence) is considered one of the key calibration points for molecular analyses of tetrapod phylogeny. Saurians have a very rich Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil record, but their late Paleozoic (Permian) record is problematic. Several Permian specimens have been referred to Sauria, but the phylogenetic affinity of some of these records remains questionable. We reexamine and review all of these specimens here, providing new data on early saurian evolution including osteohistology, and present a new morphological phylogenetic dataset. We support previous studies that find that no valid Permian record for Lepidosauromorpha, and we also reject some of the previous referrals of Permian specimens to Archosauromorpha. The most informative Permian archosauromorph is Protorosaurus speneri from the middle Late Permian of Western Europe. A historically problematic specimen from the Late Permian of Tanzania is redescribed and reidentified as a new genus and species of basal archosauromorph: Aenigmastropheus parringtoni. The supposed protorosaur Eorasaurus olsoni from the Late Permian of Russia is recovered among Archosauriformes and may be the oldest known member of the group but the phylogenetic support for this position is low. The assignment of Archosaurus rossicus from the latest Permian of Russia to the archosauromorph clade Proterosuchidae is supported. Our revision suggests a minimum fossil calibration date for the crocodile-lizard split of 254.7 Ma. The occurrences of basal archosauromorphs in the northern (30°N) and southern (55°S) parts of Pangea imply a wider paleobiogeographic distribution for the group during the Late Permian than previously appreciated. Early archosauromorph growth strategies appear to be more diverse than previously suggested based on new data on the osteohistology of Aenigmastropheus.