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Newly discovered lizard skull is “perplexing” Its place in Tree of Life uncertain

A CT image of the Kopidosaurus perplexus skull in left lateral view/Simon Scarpetta

As so often, it was discovered among the undisplayed stuff at a museum (Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History) by a grad student rummaging among the bones:

The skull was beautifully preserved, with a mouth full of sharp teeth – including some with a distinctive curve…

Scarpetta decided to bring the skull back to the Jackson School for a closer look. And on September 2020, the journal Scientific Reports published a study authored by Scarpetta describing the lizard as a new species, which he named Kopidosaurus perplexus.

The first part of the name references the lizard’s distinct teeth; a “kopis” is a curved blade used in ancient Greece. But the second part is a nod to the “perplexing” matter of just where the extinct lizard should be placed on the tree of life. According to an analysis conducted by Scarpetta, the evidence points to a number of plausible spots.

The spots can be divided into two groups of lizards, representing two general hypotheses of where the new species belongs. But adding to the uncertainty is that how those two groups relate to one another can shift depending on the particular evolutionary tree that’s examined. Scarpetta examined three of these trees – each one built by other researchers studying the evolutionary connections of different reptile groups using DNA – and suggests that there could be a forest of possibilities where the ancient lizard could fit.

The case of where exactly to put the perplexing lizard highlights an important lesson for paleontologists: just because a specimen fits in one place doesn’t mean that it won’t fit equally well into another.

“The hypothesis that you have about how different lizards are related to each other is going to influence what you think this one is,” Scarpetta said.

University of Texas At Austin, “Lizard skull fossil is new and ‘perplexing’ extinct species” at Eurekalert

So the “tree of life” is now a “forest of possibilities.”

Paper. (open access)

We like to say, keep digging! But some of the digging needs to happen in institutional basements, not excavations.

See also: In addition to other weird characteristics, the platypus has biofluorescent fur Talk about convergent evolution. And if the timing of the split is correct, 150 million years was the amount of time available, not half a billion years. … at least one species of tardigrade lights up as well. One wonders how exactly the individual species of tardigrade (water bear) began to do that. What was the time frame there?

>"an important lesson for paleontologists: just because a specimen fits in one place doesn’t mean that it won’t fit equally well into another." They'd better watch what they say there! Statements like that could be trouble for somebody. Remember all the lectures we've gotten here about how living things fit into unique nested hierarchies and all that doctrine...EDTA
November 4, 2020
05:32 PM

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