Monday, March 16, 2020

What is Oculudentavis if it's not a theropod?

In my last post, I argued the recently described Oculudentavis (Xing et al., 2020) is not a theropod.  So what is it?  To answer that question, I entered it into Simoes et al.'s (2018) sauropsid analysis which emphasizes basal lepidosauromorphs and comes out with basal gekkos and nested iguanians even using just morphological characters.  To test Jingmai's avialan hypothesis, I also added Archaeopteryx to the matrix.  The result is 384 MPTs of 2337 steps each.

Strict consensus of 384 MPTs of Simoes et al.'s (2018) analysis after adding Oculudentavis and Archaeopteryx.  Compare to Extended Data Figure 3 of Simoes et al..
As you can see, Oculudentavis resolves as a stem-squamate in a trichotomy with Huehuecuetzpalli and squamates, while Archaeopteryx is an archosauromorph sister to Erythrosuchus.  And this matrix didn't score for scleral ossicle shape, posttemporal fenestra size or maxillary tooth row length.  After scoring Oculudentavis, its teeth are clearly not acrodont, it seems to have a ventral parietal fossa and  lacks an ossified laterosphenoid.  The authors could have made it easier to evaluate by separating the cranial elements in the 3D pdf file.  As it is, a lot of palatal and braincase info is uncertain.  But Huehuecuetzpalli is Albian compared to Oculudentavis' Cenomanian, and has a skull length of 32 mm (19 mm in the juvenile) versus 14 mm in Oculudentavis.

Huehuecuetzpalli skull (top; after Reynoso, 1998), Oculudentavis skull and separate mandible (middle; after Xing et al., 2020), and Archaeopteryx skull (after Rauhut, 2014).

References- Reynoso, 1998. Huehuecuetzpalli mixtecus gen. et sp. nov: A basal squamate (Reptilia) from the Early Cretaceous of Tepexi de Rodriguez, central Mexico.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 353, 477-500.
Rauhut, 2014. New observations on the skull of Archaeopteryx. Paläontologische Zeitschrift. 88(2), 211-221.

Simōes, Caldwell, Talanda, Bernardi, Palci, Vernygora, Bernardini, Mancini and Nydam, 2018. The origin of squamates revealed by a Middle Triassic lizard from the Italian Alps. Nature. 557(7707), 706-709.

Xing, O'Connor, Schmitz, Chiappe, McKellar, Yi and Li, 2020. Hummingbird-sized dinosaur from the Cretaceous period of Myanmar. Nature. 579, 245-249.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Oculudentavis is not a theropod

Hi all.  This week we got the announcement of a tiny theropod skull in Myanmar amber, which was bound to happen eventually as amazing finds from that deposit keep being published.  Alas, whatever Oculudentavis is, it's not a theropod.

Oculudentavis skull (after Xing et al., 2020).

Just look at it.  No antorbital fenestra, incomplete ventral bar to the laterotemporal fenestra, huge posttemporal fenestrae, teeth that extend posteriorly far under the orbit...

All of which might be coincidental, but then look at the mandible.

Oculudentavis mandible (after Xing et al., 2020).

That spike-like coronoid process is classic lepidosaur, plus the dentary is way too long compared to the post-dentary elements, then the description says "The tooth geometry appears to be acrodont to pleurodont; no grooves or sockets are discernable."  And of course "the scleral ring is very large and is formed by elongated spoon-shaped ossicles; a morphology similar to this is otherwise known only in lizards (for example, Lacerta viridis)."

Add to this the size of this partially fused specimen being smaller than any extant bird (14 mm), and no feather remains, and why is this a theropod again?  The endocast is big, but why not a clade of brainier lizards or late surviving megalancosaurs by the Cenomanian?

The authors add it to Jingmai's bird analysis where it ends in a huge polytomy closer to Aves than Archaeopteryx, but outside fake Ornithuromorpha.  That's often what happens when a taxon is wrongly placed in a clade.  Note the figured placement between Archaeopteryx and Jeholornis is only found using implied weights.  At least add it to e.g. Nesbitt's or Ezcurra's archosauromorph analyses, or Cau's theropod analyses before assuming it's a bird.

Thanks to Ruben Molina Perez for suggesting this issue in the first place.

Reference- Xing, O'Connor, Schmitz, Chiappe, McKellar, Yi and Li, 2020. Hummingbird-sized dinosaur from the Cretaceous period of Myanmar. Nature. 579, 245-249.