A new species of Palaeopython (Serpentes) and other extinct squamates from the Eocene of Dielsdorf (Zurich, Switzerland)

Abstract

The lizard and snake fauna from the late middle–late Eocene (MP 16–MP 20) of Dielsdorf, near Zurich, Switzerland, is described comprehensively in this paper. Detailed comparisons of the Dielsdorf material with other extinct taxa allow us to establish a new species of the large “booid” genus Palaeopython, i.e., Palaeopython helveticus sp. nov., characterized by a unique combination of vertebral features, most prominently a highly vaulted neural arch. Other squamates of the Dielsdorf assemblage comprise the large lizard Palaeovaranus sp. and as many as three other taxa of snakes, i.e., Palaeopython cf. fischeri, Palaeopython sp. (morphotype 3), and “Booidea” indet. We conducted micro-CT scanning in the Palaeovaranus dentary, which confirmed the presence of plicidentine in this lizard genus. Micro-CT scanning was also conducted in differently sized snake vertebrae from our sample, revealing that the respective anatomical differences were probably due to ontogenetic variation. This is the first time that micro-CT scanning is applied in Palaeovaranus and Palaeopython. The importance of this method for potentially clarifying the taxonomy and precise affinities of extinct snakes is addressed. We also provide digital 3D model reconstructions of the Palaeovaranus dentary and Palaeopython vertebrae (including that of the holotype of Palaeopython helveticus sp. nov.) for the first time. The palaeobiogeographic significance of the Dielsdorf lizards and snakes is discussed and the sympatric occurrences of the genera Palaeovaranus and Palaeopython throughout the Eocene of Europe are presented in detail.

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Acknowledgements

We are deeply indebted to Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra (PIMUZ) for supporting this project and inviting GLG to study the Dielsdorf squamate material. We also thank Christian Klug (PIMUZ) for access to the Dielsdorf collection, as well as Alexandra Wegmann, Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra, and Thodoris Argyriou (PIMUZ) for CT scanning, and Heinz Furrer (formerly PIMUZ) for photographs of PIMUZ A/III 633. Access to comparative skeletal material of various extinct and extant squamates was made possible through grants SYNTHESYS ES-TAF-5910 (MNCN), SYNTHESYS AT-TAF-5911 (NHMW), SYNTHESYS HU-TAF-6145 (HNHM), and SYNTHESYS GB-TAF-6591 (NHMUK) to GLG, and the respective curators (Marta Calvo-Revuelta, Heinz Grillitsch, Judit Vörös, and Sandra Chapman) are highly thanked here. TMS acknowledges support by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant No. 205321_16277). For access and/or permissions to use photographs of material under their care, we thank Nour-Eddine Jalile (MNHN), Sandra Chapman (NHMUK), Krister Smith (SMF), Márton Rabi and Oliver Wings (GMH), Massimo Delfino (University of Torino), and Ursula Göhlich and Georg Gassner (NHMW). We are also grateful to Zbigniew Szyndlar (ZZSiD) for permission to use his drawings of specimens. This manuscript was benefited by various discussions with Krister Smith (SMF), Andrej Černanský and Jozef Klembara (PRIF UK), Alessandro Palci and Silvio Onary (Flinders University), and the late Jean-Claude Rage (MNHN). The life reconstruction in Fig. 18 was made by Jaime Chirinos. We finally thank the Editor Daniel Marty and the two reviewers, Krister Smith and an anonymous one, for their comments that enhanced the quality of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Georgios L. Georgalis.

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Supplementary Fig.

 1 Vertebral centra of specimens of Palaeopython helveticus sp. nov. in sagittal plane: PIMUZ A/III 631 (a), PIMUZ A/III 636 (b), and the holotype PIMUZ A/III 634 (c). White dotted lines in (c) represent the outlines of the vertebral centra in sagittal plane of (a) and (b). (TIFF 7643 kb)

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Georgalis, G.L., Scheyer, T.M. A new species of Palaeopython (Serpentes) and other extinct squamates from the Eocene of Dielsdorf (Zurich, Switzerland). Swiss J Geosci 112, 383–417 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00015-019-00341-6

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Keywords

  • Squamata
  • Eocene
  • Switzerland
  • Palaeopython
  • Palaeovaranus
  • New genus and species