The evolution of the lepidosaurian lower temporal bar: new perspectives from the Late Cretaceous of South China

Jin-You Mo, Xing Xu, Susan E Evans

Abstract

Until recently, it was considered axiomatic that the skull of lizards and snakes arose from that of a diapsid ancestor by loss of the lower temporal bar. The presence of the bar in the living New Zealand Tuatara, Sphenodon, was thus considered primitive, corroborating its status as a ‘living fossil’. A combination of new fossils and rigorous phylogeny has demonstrated unequivocally that the absence of the bar is the primitive lepidosaurian condition, prompting questions as to its function. Here we describe new material of Tianyusaurus, a remarkable lizard from the Late Cretaceous of China that is paradoxical in having a complete lower temporal bar and a fixed quadrate. New material from Jiangxi Province is more complete and less distorted than the original holotype. Tianyusaurus is shown to be a member of the Boreoteiioidea, a successful clade of large herbivorous lizards that were dispersed through eastern Asia, Europe and North America in the Late Cretaceous, but disappeared in the end-Cretaceous extinction. A unique combination of characters suggests that Tianyusaurus took food items requiring a large gape.

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Footnotes

  • One contribution to a Special Issue ‘Recent advances in Chinese palaeontology’.

    • Received January 7, 2009.
    • Accepted February 3, 2009.
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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