Oldest co-occurrence of Varanus and Python from Africa-first record of squamates from the early Miocene of Moghra Formation, Western Desert, Egypt.
ABSTRACT: Lizard and snake remains from the early Miocene (Burdigalian) of the Moghra Formation, Egypt, are described herein. This material comprises the first fossil remains of squamates recovered from the otherwise rich and well known vertebrate assemblage of Moghra. The material pertains to two different genera, the varanid lizard Varanus and the pythonid snake Python and adds to the so far rather poorly known squamate fossil record from Africa. On the basis of the new remains, Moghra marks the oldest so far described co-occurrence of Varanus and Python in the African continent. The close sympatry of these two genera in the African fossil record is thoroughly analyzed and discussed, a co-existence, which is still widespread in the extant herpetofauna of the continent. Situated rather close to the so called "Levantine Corridor" and dated at the Burdigalian, practically when Afro-Arabia collided with Eurasia, the Moghra squamate assemblage offers the potential of important insights in the biogeography and dispersal events of vertebrate groups during the early Miocene.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Varanidae is a clade of tiny (<20 mm pre-caudal length [PCL]) to giant (>600 mm PCL) lizards first appearing in the Cretaceous. True monitor lizards (Varanus) are known from diagnostic remains beginning in the early Miocene (Varanus rusingensis), although extremely fragmentary remains have been suggested as indicating earlier Varanus. The paleobiogeographic history of Varanus and timing for origin of its gigantism remain uncertain. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: A new Varanus from the Mytilini Formation (Turolian, Miocene) of Samos, Greece is described. The holotype consists of a partial skull roof, right side of a braincase, partial posterior mandible, fragment of clavicle, and parts of six vertebrae. A cladistic analysis including 83 taxa coded for 5733 molecular and 489 morphological characters (71 previously unincluded) demonstrates that the new fossil is a nested member of an otherwise exclusively East Asian Varanus clade. The new species is the earliest-known giant (>600 mm PCL) terrestrial lizard. Importantly, this species co-existed with a diverse continental mammalian fauna. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The new monitor is larger (longer) than 99% of known fossil and living lizards. Varanus includes, by far, the largest limbed squamates today. The only extant non-snake squamates that approach monitors in maximum size are the glass-snake Pseudopus and the worm-lizard Amphisbaena. Mosasauroids were larger, but exclusively marine, and occurred only during the Late Cretaceous. Large, extant, non-Varanus, lizards are limbless and/or largely isolated from mammalian competitors. By contrast, our new Varanus achieved gigantism in a continental environment populated by diverse eutherian mammal competitors.
Project description:Monitor lizards (genus Varanus) inhabited Europe at least from the early Miocene to the Pleistocene. Their fossil record is limited to about 40 localities that have provided mostly isolated vertebrae. Due to the poor diagnostic value of these fossils, it was recently claimed that all the European species described prior to the 21st century are not taxonomically valid and a new species, Varanus amnhophilis, was erected on the basis of fragmentary material including cranial elements, from the late Miocene of Samos (Greece). We re-examined the type material of Varanus marathonensis Weithofer, 1888, based on material from the late Miocene of Pikermi (Greece), and concluded that it is a valid, diagnosable species. Previously unpublished Iberian material from the Aragonian (middle Miocene) of Abocador de Can Mata (Vallès-Penedès Basin, Barcelona) and the Vallesian (late Miocene) of Batallones (Madrid Basin) is clearly referable to the same species on a morphological basis, further enabling to provide an emended diagnosis for this species. Varanus amnhophilis appears to be a junior subjective synonym of V. marathonensis. On the basis of the most complete fossil Varanus skeleton ever described, it has been possible to further resolve the internal phylogeny of this genus by cladistically analyzing 80 taxa coded for 495 morphological and 5729 molecular characters. Varanus marathonensis was a large-sized species distributed at relatively low latitudes in both southwestern and southeastern Europe from at least MN7+8 to MN12. Our cladistic analysis nests V. marathonensis into an eastern clade of Varanus instead of the African clade comprising Varanus griseus, to which it had been related in the past. At least two different Varanus lineages were present in Europe during the Neogene, represented by Varanus mokrensis (early Miocene) and V. marathonensis (middle to late Miocene), respectively.
Project description:Squamates have an extremely long evolutionary history with a fossil record that extends into the Middle Triassic. However, most of our knowledge of their early evolutionary history is derived from Laurasian records. Therefore, fundamental questions regarding the early evolution of squamates in the Southern Hemisphere, such as the origins of the extremely diverse and endemic South American fauna, remain unanswered. Here, we describe a new lizard species that represents the oldest fossil squamate from South America, demonstrating that squamates were present on that continent at least 20 million years earlier than previously recorded. The new species represents the first occurrence of the extinct squamate family Paramacellodidae in South America and displays an unusual limb morphology. Finally, our findings suggest early South American squamates were part of a much broader distribution of their respective clades, in sharp contrast to the high levels of endemicity characteristic of modern faunas.
Project description:Squamate (lizard and snake) remains are abundant in the terminal Pleistocene Natufian archaeological sites of the Levant, raising the question of whether they constitute part of the broad-spectrum diet characteristic of this period. However, the role of squamates in Natufian diets remains unclear, as they are taphonomically under-studied. We conducted a series of experiments and actualistic observations that tested the impact of pre- and post-depositional processes on squamate vertebrae. We emphasized the multiple destruction processes that leave overlapping or altered marks on the bones, such as digestion marks that were modified by trampling. The resulting bone modification typology provides a tool for studying archaeological squamate remains. The experimental data were compared to the archaeological bone samples of the Natufian sequence of el-Wad Terrace (Mount Carmel, Israel, 15,000-12,000?cal BP). The Natufian squamate samples deviate from all actualistic ones in their lesser evidence of digestion and much greater indications for trampling, erosion and breakage. The taphonomic study, coupled with intra-site analysis, has unraveled the complex depositional history of el-Wad Terrace, enabling us to differentiate between cultural and non-cultural contexts and to identify possible human consumption of the European glass lizard and the large whip snake in the Natufian.
Project description:We here describe the first fossil remains of a green lizard of the Lacerta group from the late Miocene (MN 13) of the Solnechnodolsk locality in southern European Russia. This region of Europe is crucial for our understanding of the paleobiogeography and evolution of these middle-sized lizards. Although this clade has a broad geographical distribution across the continent today, its presence in the fossil record has only rarely been reported. In contrast to that, the material described here is abundant, consists of a premaxilla, maxillae, frontals, parietals, jugals, quadrate, pterygoids, dentaries and vertebrae. The comparison of these elements to all extant green lizard species shows that these fossils are indistinguishable from Lacerta trilineata. Thus, they form the first potential evidence of the occurrence of this species in the Miocene. This may be also used as a potential calibration point for further studies. Together with other lizard fossils, Solnechnodolsk shows an interesting combination of survivors and the dawn of modern species. This locality provides important evidence for the transition of an archaic Miocene world to the modern diversity of lizards in Europe. In addition, this article represents a contribution to the knowledge of the comparative osteological anatomy of the selected cranial elements in lacertids. This study gives special emphasis to the green lizards, but new data are also presented for related taxa, e.g., Timon lepidus, Podarcis muralis or Zootoca vivipara. Although the green lizards include several cryptic species for which determination based on isolated osteological material would be expected to be difficult, our comparisons show several important morphological differences, although a high degree of variability is present.
Project description:A new species of fossil bumble bee (Apinae: Bombini) is described and figured from Early Miocene (Burdigalian) deposits of the Most Basin at the Bílina Mine, Czech Republic. Bombus trophoniussp. n., is placed within the subgenus Cullumanobombus Vogt and distinguished from the several species groups therein. The species is apparently most similar to the Nearctic B. (Cullumanobombus) rufocinctus Cresson, the earliest-diverging species within the clade and the two may be related only by symplesiomorphies. The age of the fossil is in rough accordance with divergence estimations for Cullumanobombus.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Transition from a lizard-like to a snake-like body form is one of the most important transformations in reptilian evolution. The increasing number of sequenced reptilian genomes is enabling a deeper understanding of vertebrate evolution, although the genetic basis of the loss of limbs in reptiles remains enigmatic. Here we report genome sequencing, assembly, and annotation for the Asian glass lizard Ophisaurus gracilis, a limbless lizard species with an elongated snake-like body form. Addition of this species to the genome repository will provide an excellent resource for studying the genetic basis of limb loss and trunk elongation. FINDINGS:O. gracilis genome sequencing using the Illumina HiSeq2000 platform resulted in 274.20 Gbp of raw data that was filtered and assembled to a final size of 1.78 Gbp, comprising 6,717 scaffolds with N50?=?1.27 Mbp. Based on the k-mer estimated genome size of 1.71 Gbp, the assembly appears to be nearly 100% complete. A total of 19,513 protein-coding genes were predicted, and 884.06 Mbp of repeat sequences (approximately half of the genome) were annotated. The draft genome of O. gracilis has similar characteristics to both lizard and snake genomes. CONCLUSIONS:We report the first genome of a lizard from the family Anguidae, O. gracilis. This supplements currently available genetic and genomic resources for amniote vertebrates, representing a major increase in comparative genome data available for squamate reptiles in particular.
Project description:The South Asian river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is the only extant survivor of the large clade Platanistoidea, having a well-diversified fossil record from the Late Oligocene to the Middle Miocene. Based on a partial skeleton collected from the Chilcatay Formation (Chilcatay Fm; southern coast of Peru), we report here a new squalodelphinid genus and species, Macrosqualodelphis ukupachai. A volcanic ash layer, sampled near the fossil, yielded the 40Ar/39Ar age of 18.78?±?0.08?Ma (Burdigalian, Early Miocene). The phylogenetic analysis places Macrosqualodelphis as the earliest branching squalodelphinid. Combined with several cranial and dental features, the large body size (estimated body length of 3.5?m) of this odontocete suggests that it consumed larger prey than the other members of its family. Together with Huaridelphis raimondii and Notocetus vanbenedeni, both also found in the Chilcatay Fm, this new squalodelphinid further demonstrates the peculiar local diversity of the family along the southeastern Pacific coast, possibly related to their partition into different dietary niches. At a wider geographical scale, the morphological and ecological diversity of squalodelphinids confirms the major role played by platanistoids during the Early Miocene radiation of crown odontocetes.
Project description:While snake venoms have been the subject of intense study, comparatively little work has been done on lizard venoms. In this study, we have examined the structural and functional diversification of anguimorph lizard venoms and associated toxins, and related these results to dentition and predatory ecology. Venom composition was shown to be highly variable across the 20 species of Heloderma, Lanthanotus, and Varanus included in our study. While kallikrein enzymes were ubiquitous, they were also a particularly multifunctional toxin type, with differential activities on enzyme substrates and also ability to degrade alpha or beta chains of fibrinogen that reflects structural variability. Examination of other toxin types also revealed similar variability in their presence and activity levels. The high level of venom chemistry variation in varanid lizards compared to that of helodermatid lizards suggests that venom may be subject to different selection pressures in these two families. These results not only contribute to our understanding of venom evolution but also reveal anguimorph lizard venoms to be rich sources of novel bioactive molecules with potential as drug design and development lead compounds.
Project description:Background:Tar seep deposits in South America historically are well-known for their rich record of fossil mammals, contrasting with only a few formal reports of reptile remains. Here we report a new snake fauna recovered from two tar pits from Venezuela. The fossil remains come from two localities: (a) El Breal de Orocual, which comprises an inactive tar seep estimated to be Plio/Pleistocene in age; and (b) Mene de Inciarte, an active surface asphalt deposit with an absolute age dating to the late Pleistocene. Methods:The taxonomic identity of all specimens was assessed via consultation of the relevant literature and comparison with extant specimens. The taxonomic assignments are supported by detailed anatomical description. Results:The Mene de Inciarte snake fauna comprises vertebral remains identified as the genus Epicrates sp. (Boidae), indeterminate viperids, and several isolated vertebrae attributable to "Colubridae" (Colubroidea, sensu Zaher et al., 2009). Amongst the vertebral assemblage at El Breal de Orocual, one specimen is assigned to the genus Corallus sp. (Boidae), another to cf. Micrurus (Elapidae), and several others to "Colubrids" (Colubroides, sensu Zaher et al., 2009) and the Viperidae family. Conclusions:These new records provide valuable insight into the diversity of snakes in the north of South America during the Neogene/Quaternary boundary. The snake fauna of El Breal de Orocual and Mene de Inciarte demonstrates the presence of Boidae, Viperidae, "colubrids", and the oldest South American record of Elapidae. The presence of Corallus, Epicrates, and viperids corroborates the mosaic palaeoenvironmental conditions of El Breal de Orocual. The presence of Colubroides within both deposits sheds light on the palaeobiogeographical pattern of caenophidians snake colonization of South America and is consistent with the hypothesis of two episodes of dispersion of Colubroides to the continent.