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Concept: Tuatara


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.

Concepts: Lizard, Lepidosauria, Evolution, Squamata, Dinosaur, Sphenodontia, Tuatara, Reptile


Recently it was suggested that the phylogenetic clustering of Mesozoic marine reptile lineages, such as thalattosaurs, the very successful fish-shaped ichthyosaurs and sauropterygians (including plesiosaurs), among others, in a so-called ‘superclade’ is an artefact linked to convergent evolution of morphological characters associated with a shared marine lifestyle. Accordingly, partial ‘un-scoring’ of the problematic phylogenetic characters was proposed. Here we report a new, exceptionally preserved and mostly articulated juvenile skeleton of the diapsid reptile, Eusaurosphargis dalsassoi, a species previously recovered within the marine reptile ‘superclade’, for which we now provide a revised diagnosis. Using micro-computed tomography, we show that besides having a deep skull with a short and broad rostrum, the most outstanding feature of the new specimen is extensive, complex body armour, mostly preserved in situ, along its vertebrae, ribs, and forelimbs, as well as a row of flat, keeled ventrolateral osteoderms associated with the gastralia. As a whole, the anatomical features support an essentially terrestrial lifestyle of the animal. A review of the proposed partial character ‘un-scoring’ using three published data matrices indicate that this approach is flawed and should be avoided, and that within the marine reptile ‘superclade’ E. dalsassoi potentially is the sister taxon of Sauropterygia.

Concepts: Cretaceous, Skull, Tuatara, Sauropterygia, Cladistics, Diapsid, Ichthyosaur, Reptile


The pineal and parapineal organs are dorsal outpocketings of the vertebrate diencephalon that play key roles in orientation and in circadian and annual cycles. Lampreys are four eyed in that both the pineal and parapineal form eyelike photosensory structures, but the pineal is the dominant or sole median photosensory structure in most lower vertebrate clades. The pineal complex has been thought to evolve in a single direction by losing photosensory and augmenting secretory function in the transitions from three-eyed lower vertebrates to two-eyed mammals and archosaurs [1-3]. Yet the widely accepted elaboration of the parapineal instead of the pineal as the primary median photosensory organ [4] in Lepidosauria (lizards, snakes, and tuataras) hints at a more complex evolutionary history. Here we present evidence that a fourth eye re-evolved from the pineal organ at least once within vertebrates, specifically in an extinct monitor lizard, Saniwa ensidens, in which pineal and parapineal eyes were present simultaneously. The tandem midline location of these structures confirms in a striking fashion the proposed homology of the parietal eye with the parapineal organ and refutes the classical model of pineal bilaterality. It furthermore raises questions about the evolution and functional interpretation of the median photosensory organ in other tetrapod clades.

Concepts: Tetrapod, Reptile, Evolution, Vertebrate, Bird, Pineal gland, Parietal eye, Tuatara


Introducing species to areas outside their historical range to secure their future under climate change is a controversial strategy for preventing extinction. While the debate over the wisdom of this strategy continues, such introductions are already taking place. Previous frameworks for analysing the decision to introduce have lacked a quantifiable management objective and mathematically rigorous problem formulation. Here we develop the first rigorous quantitative framework for deciding whether or not a particular introduction should go ahead, which species to prioritize for introduction, and where and how to introduce them. It can also be used to compare introduction with alternative management actions, and to prioritise questions for future research. We apply the framework to a case study of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) in New Zealand. While simple and accessible, this framework can accommodate uncertainty in predictions and values. It provides essential support for the existing IUCN guidelines by presenting a quantitative process for better decision-making about conservation introductions.

Concepts: Introduction, Living fossil, Tuatara, Scientific method, New Zealand


In many animals, behaviours such as territoriality, mate guarding, navigation and food acquisition rely heavily on spatial memory abilities; this has been demonstrated in diverse taxa, from invertebrates to mammals. However, spatial memory ability in squamate reptiles has been seen as possible, at best, or non-existent, at worst. Of the few previous studies testing for spatial memory in squamates, some have found no evidence of spatial memory while two studies have found evidence of spatial memory in snakes, but have been criticized based on methodological issues. We used the Barnes maze, a common paradigm to test spatial memory abilities in mammals, to test for spatial memory abilities in the side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana). We found the existence of spatial memory in this species using this spatial task. Thus, our study supports the existence of spatial memory in this squamate reptile species and seeks to parsimoniously align this species with the diverse taxa that demonstrate spatial memory ability.

Concepts: Tuatara, Mammal, Amniote, Phrynosomatidae, Side-blotched lizard, Lizard, Reptile, Squamata


The lizards of the family Agamidae are one of the most prominent elements of the Australian reptile fauna. Here, we present a genomic resource built on the basis of a wild-caught male ZZ central bearded dragon Pogona vitticeps.

Concepts: Lizards, Gecko, Tuatara, Pogona, Squamata, Komodo dragon, Central Bearded Dragon, Agamidae


Temporal fenestration has long been considered a key character to understand relationships amongst reptiles. In particular, the absence of the lower temporal bar (LTB) is considered one of the defining features of squamates (lizards and snakes). In a re-assessment of the borioteiioid lizard Polyglyphanodon sternbergi (Cretaceous, North America), we detected a heretofore unrecognized ontogenetic series, sexual dimorphism (a rare instance for Mesozoic reptiles), and a complete LTB, a feature only recently recognized for another borioteiioid, Tianyusaurus zhengi (Cretaceous, China). A new phylogenetic analysis (with updates on a quarter of the scorings for P. sternbergi) indicates not only that the LTB was reacquired in squamates, but it happened independently at least twice. An analysis of the functional significance of the LTB using proxies indicates that, unlike for T. zhengi, this structure had no apparent functional advantage in P. sternbergi, and it is better explained as the result of structural constraint release. The observed canalization against a LTB in squamates was broken at some point in the evolution of borioteiioids, whereas never re-occuring in other squamate lineages. This case of convergent evolution involves a mix of both adaptationist and structuralist causes, which is unusual for both living and extinct vertebrates.

Concepts: Insect, Snake, Tuatara, Dinosaur, Mesozoic, Sexual dimorphism, Reptile, Squamata


Vertebral laminae are bony ridges or sheets that connect important morphological landmarks on the vertebrae, like diapophyses or zygapophyses. They usually exhibit some serial variation throughout the column. A consistent terminology facilitates the morphological description of this variation, and the recognition of patterns that could be taxonomically significant and could serve as phylogenetic characters. Such a terminology was designed for saurischian dinosaurs, and has also been applied to other members of Archosauriformes. Herein, this terminology is applied for the first time to lizards (Squamata). Probably due to their generally smaller size compared to saurischian dinosaurs, lizards have less developed vertebral laminae. Some laminae could not be recognized in this group and others require new names to account for differences in basic vertebral morphology. For instance, the fusion of diapophysis and parapophysis in lacertids into a structure called synapophysis necessitates the creation of the new term synapophyseal laminae for both diapophyseal and parapophyseal laminae. An assessment of occurrence and serial variation in a number of lacertid species shows that some laminae develop throughout ontogeny or only occur in large-sized species, whereas the distribution of other laminae might prove to be taxonomically significant in future.

Concepts: Nomenclature, Squamata, Saurischia, Lacertidae, Lizard, Vertebrate, Snake, Tuatara


Sesamoids bones are small intra-tendinous (or ligamentous) ossifications found near joints and are often variable between individuals. Related bones, lunulae, are found within the menisci of certain joints. Several studies have described sesamoids and lunulae in lizards and their close relatives (Squamata) as potentially useful characters in phylogenetic analysis, but their status in the extant outgroup to Squamata, tuatara (Sphenodon), remains unclear. Sphenodon is the only living rhynchocephalian, but museum specimens are valuable and difficult to replace. Here, we use non-destructive X-ray microtomography to investigate the distribution of sesamoids and lunulae in 19 Sphenodon specimens and trace the evolution of these bones in Lepidosauria (Rhynchocephalia + Squamata). We find adult Sphenodon to possess a sesamoid and lunula complement different from any known squamate, but also some variation within Sphenodon specimens. The penultimate phalangeal sesamoids and tibial lunula appear to mineralize prior to skeletal maturity, followed by mineralization of a sesamoid between metatarsal I and the astragalocalcaneum (MTI-AC), the palmar sesamoids, and tibiofemoral lunulae around attainment of skeletal maturity. The tibial patella, ulnar, and plantar sesamoids mineralize late in maturity or variably. Ancestral state reconstruction indicates that the ulnar patella and tibiofemoral lunulae are synapomophies of Squamata, and the palmar sesamoid, tibial patella, tibial lunula, and MTI-AC may be synapomorphies of Lepidosauria. J. Morphol., 2016. © 2016 The Authors Journal of Morphology Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Sesamoid bone, Patella, Skeletal system, Squamata, Lizard, Sphenodontia, Reptile, Tuatara


The trade in wildlife and keeping of exotic pets is subject to varying levels of national and international regulation and is a topic often attracting controversy. Reptiles are popular exotic pets and comprise a substantial component of the live animal trade. High mortality of traded animals raises welfare concerns, and also has implications for conservation if collection from the wild is required to meet demand. Mortality of reptiles can occur at any stage of the trade chain from collector to consumer. However, there is limited information on mortality rates of reptiles across trade chains, particularly amongst final consumers in the home. We investigated mortality rates of reptiles amongst consumers using a specialised technique for asking sensitive questions, additive Randomised Response Technique (aRRT), as well as direct questioning (DQ). Overall, 3.6% of snakes, chelonians and lizards died within one year of acquisition. Boas and pythons had the lowest reported mortality rates of 1.9% and chameleons had the highest at 28.2%. More than 97% of snakes, 87% of lizards and 69% of chelonians acquired by respondents over five years were reported to be captive bred and results suggest that mortality rates may be lowest for captive bred individuals. Estimates of mortality from aRRT and DQ did not differ significantly which is in line with our findings that respondents did not find questions about reptile mortality to be sensitive. This research suggests that captive reptile mortality in the home is rather low, and identifies those taxa where further effort could be made to reduce mortality rates.

Concepts: Tuatara, Chameleon, Question, Pet, Amniote, Wildlife, Reptile, Squamata