Before Long Snouts: An Early Phytosaur – #365papers – 2017 – 101

#365papers for April 11, 2017

Stocker, Zhao, Nesbitt, Wu, and Li, 2017, A short-snouted, Middle Triassic phytosaur and its implications for the morphological evolution and biogeography of Phytosauria: Nature Scientific Reports, 7:46028, DOI:10.1038/srep46028

What’s it about?

Phytosaurs are crocodile-looking marine reptiles from the Miocene. They are unique in having a long snout with the nares (nose openings) on the top of the skull, rather than on the tip of the snout. Here, a new phytosaur is described that has a short snout and the nares aren’t on the top of the head. It’s definitely a phytosaur due to other diagnostic skeletal features of the skull and limbs, and appears to represent an early stage of evolution where the characteristic snout and nostril position are not yet developed.

Why does it matter?

This discovery helps paleontologists understand how phytosaurs developed their unique skull shape and also helps us understand when the skull changed with respect to other adaptations, such as becoming primarily aquatic.

Why did I read this?

This paper falls into the category of ‘it appeared on my Facebook feed so I had to read it.’ I do discuss phytosaurs in my vertebrate paleontology course, so this paper might come back…

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