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A new marine reptile from the Triassic of China, with a highly specialized feeding adaptation

Abstract

The Luoping fauna (Anisian, Middle Triassic) is probably the oldest of Triassic faunas in Guizhou–Yunnan area, China. The reptilian assemblage is comprised of ichthyosaurs, a number of sauropterygians (pachypleurosaur-like forms), saurosphargids, protorosaurs, and archosauriforms. Here, we report on a peculiar reptile, newly found in this fauna. Its dentition is fence or comb-like and bears more than 175 pleurodont teeth in each ramus of the upper and lower jaws, tooth crown is needle-like distally and blade-shaped proximally; its rostrum strongly bends downward and the anterior end of its mandible expands both dorsally and ventrally to form a shovel-headed structure; and its ungual phalanges are hoof-shaped. The specializations of the jaws and dentition indicate that the reptile may have been adapted to a way of bottom-filter feeding in water. It is obvious that such delicate teeth are not strong enough to catch prey, but were probably used as a barrier to filter microorganisms or benthic invertebrates such as sea worms. These were collected by the specialized jaws, which may have functioned as a shovel or pushdozer (the mandible) and a grasper or scratcher (the rostrum). Our preliminary analysis suggests that the new reptile might be more closely related to the Sauropterygia than to other marine reptiles.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Dong-yi Niu (WIGM) for his skillful preparation of the specimen used in this study and J.C. Mallon of the CMN for his carful edits and suggestions on an earlier version of the manuscript. We thank Da-yong Jiang of Peking University, Shi-xue Hu of Chengdu Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources of China, James M. Neenan of University of Zurich, and Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for providing references or information on the fauna. X.-c.W particularly wishes to thank the Department of Paleontology of WIGM for their hospitality during his visit. Five anonymous referees carefully reviewed the manuscript, offering critical comments and suggestions that led to its great improvement. This work was supported by research grants from the China Geological Survey (No. 1212011120148), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSFC- 41172027), and the CMN (RCP09).

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Correspondence to Xiao-Chun Wu.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Cheng, L., Chen, XH., Shang, QH. et al. A new marine reptile from the Triassic of China, with a highly specialized feeding adaptation. Naturwissenschaften 101, 251–259 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-014-1148-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-014-1148-4

Keywords

  • Diapsida
  • Bottom-filter feeding
  • Middle Triassic
  • Yunnan
  • China