Azhdarchid pterosaurs include the largest animals to ever take to the skies with some species exceeding 10 metres in wingspan and 220 kg in mass. Associated skeletons show that azhdarchids were long-necked, long-jawed predators that combined a wing planform suited for soaring with limb adaptations indicative of quadrupedal terrestrial foraging. The postcranial proportions of the group have been regarded as uniform overall, irrespective of their overall size, notwithstanding suggestions that minor variation may have been present. Here, we discuss a recently discovered giant azhdarchid neck vertebra referable to Hatzegopteryx from the Maastrichtian Sebeş Formation of the Transylvanian Basin, Romania, which shows how some azhdarchids departed markedly from conventional views on their proportions. This vertebra, which we consider a cervical VII, is 240 mm long as preserved and almost as wide. Among azhdarchid cervicals, it is remarkable for the thickness of its cortex (4-6 mm along its ventral wall) and robust proportions. By comparing its dimensions to other giant azhdarchid cervicals and to the more completely known necks of smaller taxa, we argue that Hatzegopteryx had a proportionally short, stocky neck highly resistant to torsion and compression. This specimen is one of several hinting at greater disparity within Azhdarchidae than previously considered, but is the first to demonstrate such proportional differences within giant taxa. On the assumption that other aspects of Hatzegopteryx functional anatomy were similar to those of other azhdarchids, and with reference to the absence of large terrestrial predators in the Maastrichtian of Transylvania, we suggest that this pterosaur played a dominant predatory role among the unusual palaeofauna of ancient Haţeg.
The Lufeng Formation in Lufeng Basin of Yunnan Province, southwestern China preserves one of the richest terrestrial Lower Jurassic vertebrate faunas globally, especially for its basal sauropodomorphs, such as Lufengosaurus and Yunnanosaurus. Here we report a new taxon, Xingxiulong chengi gen. et sp. nov. represented by three partial skeletons with overlapping elements. Xingxiulong possesses a number of autapomorphies, such as transversely expanded plate-like summit on top of the neural spine of posterior dorsal vertebrae, four sacral vertebrae, robust scapula, and elongated pubic plate approximately 40% of the total length of the pubis. Phylogenetic analysis resolves Xingxiulong as a basal member of Sauropodiformes, and together with another two Lufeng basal sauropodiforms Jingshanosaurus and Yunnanosaurus, they represent the basalmost lineages of this clade, indicating its Asian origin. Although being relatively primitive, Xingxiulong displays some derived features normally occurred in advanced sauropodiforms including sauropods, such as a four sacral-sacrum, a robust scapula, and a pubis with elongated pubic plate. The discovery of Xingxiulong increases the diversity of basal sauropodomorphs from the Lufeng Formation and indicates a more complicated scenario in the early evolution of sauropodiforms.
A new small-bodied ornithopod dinosaur, Diluvicursor pickeringi, gen. et sp. nov., is named from the lower Albian of the Eumeralla Formation in southeastern Australia and helps shed new light on the anatomy and diversity of Gondwanan ornithopods. Comprising an almost complete tail and partial lower right hindlimb, the holotype (NMV P221080) was deposited as a carcass or body-part in a log-filled scour near the base of a deep, high-energy river that incised a faunally rich, substantially forested riverine floodplain within the Australian-Antarctic rift graben. The deposit is termed the ‘Eric the Red West Sandstone.’ The holotype, interpreted as an older juvenile ∼1.2 m in total length, appears to have endured antemortem trauma to the pes. A referred, isolated posterior caudal vertebra (NMV P229456) from the holotype locality, suggests D. pickeringi grew to at least 2.3 m in length. D. pickeringi is characterised by 10 potential autapomorphies, among which dorsoventrally low neural arches and transversely broad caudal ribs on the anterior-most caudal vertebrae are a visually defining combination of features. These features suggest D. pickeringi had robust anterior caudal musculature and strong locomotor abilities. Another isolated anterior caudal vertebra (NMV P228342) from the same deposit, suggests that the fossil assemblage hosts at least two ornithopod taxa. D. pickeringi and two stratigraphically younger, indeterminate Eumeralla Formation ornithopods from Dinosaur Cove, NMV P185992/P185993 and NMV P186047, are closely related. However, the tail of D. pickeringi is far shorter than that of NMV P185992/P185993 and its pes more robust than that of NMV P186047. Preliminary cladistic analysis, utilising three existing datasets, failed to resolve D. pickeringi beyond a large polytomy of Ornithopoda. However, qualitative assessment of shared anatomical features suggest that the Eumeralla Formation ornithopods, South American Anabisetia saldiviai and Gasparinisaura cincosaltensis, Afro-Laurasian dryosaurids and possibly Antarctic Morrosaurus antarcticus share a close phylogenetic progenitor. Future phylogenetic analysis with improved data on Australian ornithopods will help to test these suggested affinities.
Tadpoles of the monotypic Indian dancing frog family Micrixalidae have remained obscure for over 125 years. Here we report the discovery of the elusive tadpoles of Micrixalus herrei from the sand beds of a forested stream in southern Western Ghats, and confirm their identity through DNA barcoding. These actively burrowing tadpoles lead an entirely fossorial life from eggs to late metamorphic stages. We describe their internal and external morphological characters while highlighting the following features: eel-like appearance, extensively muscularized body and tail, reduced tail fins, skin-covered eyes, delayed development of eye pigmentation in early pre-metamorphic stages (Gosner stages 25-29), prominent tubular sinistral spiracle, large transverse processes on vertebrae II and III, ankylosed ribs on transverse processes of vertebra II, notochord terminating before the atlantal cotyle-occipital condyle junction, absence of keratodonts, serrated well-formed jaw sheaths, and extensive calcified endolymphatic sacs reaching sacrum posteriorly. The tadpole gut contains mostly fine sediments and sand. We discuss the eel-like morphology and feeding habits of M. herrei in the context of convergence with other well-known fossorial tadpoles. This discovery builds the knowledge base for further comparative analyses and conservation of Micrixalus, an ancient and endemic lineage of Indian frogs.
Increased excavation of dinosaurs from China over the last two decades has enriched the record of Asian titanosauriform sauropods. However, the relationships of these sauropods remain contentious, and hinges on a few well-preserved taxa, such as Euhelopus zdanskyi. Here we describe a new sauropod, Yongjinglong datangi gen. nov. et sp. nov., from the Lower Cretaceous Hekou Group in the Lanzhou Basin of Gansu Province, northwestern China. Yongjinglong datangi is characterized by the following unique combination of characters, including seven autapomorphies: long-crowned, spoon-shaped premaxillary tooth; axially elongate parapophyses on the cervical vertebra; very deep lateral pneumatic foramina on the lateral surfaces of the cervical and cranial dorsal vertebral centra; low, unbifurcated neural spine fused with the postzygapophyses to form a cranially-pointing, triangular plate in a middle dorsal vertebra; an “XI”-shaped configuration of the laminae on the arches of the middle dorsal vertebrae; a very long scapular blade with straight cranial and caudal edges; and a tall, deep groove on the lateral surface of the distal shaft of the radius. The new specimen shares several features with other sauropods: a pronounced M. triceps longus tubercle on the scapula and ventrolaterally elongated parapophyses in its cervical vertebra as in Euhelopodidae. Based on phylogenetic analyses Yongjinglong datangi is highly derived within Titanosauria, which suggests either a remarkable convergence with more basal titanosauriform sauropods in the Early Cretaceous or a retention of plesiomorphic features that were lost in other titanosaurians. The morphology and remarkable length of the scapulocoracoid reveal an unusual relationship between the shoulder and the middle trunk: the scapulocoracoid spans over half of the length of the trunk. The medial, notch-shaped coracoid foramen and the partially fused scapulocoracoid synostosis suggest that the specimen is a subadult individual. This specimen sheds new light on the diversity of Early Cretaceous Titanosauriformes in China.
A new oviraptorid dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of Ganzhou, bringing oviraptrotid diversity of this region to seven taxa, is described. It is characterized by a distinct cassowary-like crest on the skull, no pleurocoels on the centra from the second through fourth cervical vertebrae, a neck twice as long as the dorsal vertebral column and slightly longer than the forelimb (including the manus). Phylogenetic analysis recovers the new oviraptorid taxon, Corythoraptor jacobsi, as closely related to Huanansaurus from Ganzhou. Osteochronology suggests that the type specimen of Corythoraptor had not reached stationary growth stage but died while decreasing growth rates. The histology implies that it would correspond to an immature individual approximately eight years old. We hypothesize, based on the inner structure compared to that in modern cassowaries, that the prominent casque of Corythoraptor was a multifunction-structure utilized in display, communication and probably expression of the fitness during mating seasons.
The head and anterior trunk region of most actinopterygian fishes is stiffened as, uniquely within vertebrates, the pectoral girdles have a direct and often strong connection through the posttemporal to the posterior region of the skull. Members of the mesopelagic fish family Stomiidae have their pectoral girdle separated from the skull. This connection is lost in several teleost groups, but the stomiids have an additional evolutionary novelty-a flexible connection between the occiput and the first vertebra, where only the notochord persists. Several studies suggested that stomiids engulf significantly large prey items and conjectured about the functional role of the anterior part of the vertebral column; however, there has been no precise anatomical description of this complex. Here we describe a unique configuration comprising the occiput and the notochordal sheath in Aristostomias, Eustomias, Malacosteus, Pachystomias, and Photostomias that represents a true functional head joint in teleosts and discuss its potential phylogenetic implications. In these genera, the chordal sheath is folded inward ventrally beneath its connection to the basioccipital and embraces the occipital condyle when in a resting position. In the resting position (wherein the head is not manipulatively elevated), this condyle is completely embraced by the ventral fold of the notochord. A manual manipulative elevation of the head in cleared and stained specimens unfolds the ventral sheath of the notochord. As a consequence, the cranium can be pulled up and back significantly farther than in all other teleost taxa that lack such a functional head joint and thereby can reach mouth gapes up to 120°.
Canine Chiari-like malformation (CM) is a complex abnormality of the skull and craniocervical junction associated with miniaturization and brachycephaly which can result in the spinal cord disease syringomyelia (SM). This study investigated the inheritance of CM in a Griffon Bruxellois (GB) family and feasibility of crossbreeding a brachycephalic CM affected GB with a mesaticephalic normal Australian terrier and then backcrossing to produce individuals free of the malformation and regain GB breed characteristics. The study family cohort (n = 27) included five founder dogs from a previous baseline study of 155 GB which defined CM as a global malformation of the cranium and craniocervical junction with a shortened skull base and increased proximity of the cervical vertebrae to the skull. T1-weighted sagittal DICOM images of the brain and craniocervical junction were analysed for five significant traits (two angles, three lines) identified from the previous study and subsequent Qualitative Trait Loci analysis. Mean measurements for mixed breed, pure-breed and baseline study groups were compared. Results indicated that mixed breed traits posed less risk for CM and SM and were useful to distinguish the phenotype. Moreover on the MR images, the filial relationships displayed by the traits exhibited segregation and those presenting the greatest risk for CM appeared additive towards the severity of the condition. The external phenotypes revealed that by outcrossing breed types and with careful selection of appropriate conformation characteristics in the first generation, it is possible to regain the GB breed standard and reduce the degree of CM. The four GB affected with SM in the study all exhibited reduced caudal skull development compared to their relatives. The craniocervical traits may be useful for quantifying CM and assessing the possibility of SM thus assisting breeders with mate selection. However, such a system requires validation to ensure appropriateness for all breeds at risk.
Mammals as a rule have seven cervical vertebrae, a number that remains remarkably constant. Changes of this number are associated with major congenital abnormalities (pleiotropic effects) that are, at least in humans, strongly selected against. Recently, it was found that Late Pleistocene mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) from the North Sea have an unusually high incidence of abnormal cervical vertebral numbers, approximately ten times higher than that of extant elephants. Abnormal numbers were due to the presence of large cervical ribs on the seventh vertebra, indicating a homeotic change from a cervical rib-less vertebra into a thoracic rib-bearing vertebra. The high incidence of cervical ribs indicates a vulnerable condition and is thought to be due to inbreeding and adverse conditions that may have impacted early pregnancies in declining populations. In this study we investigated the incidence of cervical ribs in another extinct Late Pleistocene megaherbivore from the North Sea and the Netherlands, the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis). We show that the incidence of abnormal cervical vertebral numbers in the woolly rhinoceros is unusually high for mammals (15,6%, n = 32) and much higher than in extant Rhinoceratidae (0%, n = 56). This indicates that woolly rhinoceros lived under vulnerable conditions, just like woolly mammoths. The vulnerable condition may well have contributed to their eventual extinction.
The construction of the vertebral column has been used as a key anatomical character in defining and diagnosing early tetrapod groups. Rhachitomous vertebrae-in which there is a dorsally placed neural arch and spine, an anteroventrally placed intercentrum and paired, posterodorsally placed pleurocentra-have long been considered the ancestral morphology for tetrapods. Nonetheless, very little is known about vertebral anatomy in the earliest stem tetrapods, because most specimens remain trapped in surrounding matrix, obscuring important anatomical features. Here we describe the three-dimensional vertebral architecture of the Late Devonian stem tetrapod Ichthyostega using propagation phase-contrast X-ray synchrotron microtomography. Our scans reveal a diverse array of new morphological, and associated developmental and functional, characteristics, including a possible posterior-to-anterior vertebral ossification sequence and the first evolutionary appearance of ossified sternal elements. One of the most intriguing features relates to the positional relationships between the vertebral elements, with the pleurocentra being unexpectedly sutured or fused to the intercentra that directly succeed them, indicating a ‘reverse’ rhachitomous design. Comparison of Ichthyostega with two other stem tetrapods, Acanthostega and Pederpes, shows that reverse rhachitomous vertebrae may be the ancestral condition for limbed vertebrates. This study fundamentally revises our current understanding of vertebral column evolution in the earliest tetrapods and raises questions about the presumed vertebral architecture of tetrapodomorph fish and later, more crownward, tetrapods.