ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Tetrapod Zoology

Tetrapod Zoology


Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals - living and extinct
Tetrapod Zoology Home

More temnospondyls: gigantic, gharial-snouted archegosauroids and their spatulate-snouted kin

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



Archegosauroids! At left, the gigantic Prionosuchus, with human to scale (did these animals really have external gills like that? Most probably not). Top right: old image (in public domain) of the skull of an Archegosaurus; bottom right: long-snouted platyoposaurine Platyoposaurus. Anybody know the name of the artist who did the Prionosuchus?

Good news: I’ve decided to treat you all to yet another article on temnospondyls. This time we look at several (mostly) Permian groups – the sclerocephalids, archegosaurids and their relatives – that have sometimes (but not consistently) been grouped together as the Archegosauroidea or Archegosauriformes. As before, I have to note that there are strongly competing views on temnospondyl phylogeny. Archegosauroids have been included within Limnarchia by some (Yates & Warren 2000) and Euskelia by others (McHugh 2012). This group includes some of the most spectacular and gigantic of temnospondyls. Before talking about anything that might be interesting, however, we need to address some boring taxonomic stuff, sorry.

Excellent life-sized Sclerocephalus model (perhaps with anachronistic flora) taken at State Museum of Natural History, Stuttgart. Photo by Günter Bechly, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Archegosauroidea and Archegosauriformes are named for Archegosaurus decheni, named in 1847. However, the taxonomy of these temnospondyls is somewhat confusing. The names Actinodontidae Lydekker, 1885 and Sclerocephalidae Jaeckel, 1909 have both been used for the group that includes Sclerocephalus, one of the best known members of this assemblage. Actinodontidae is named for Actinodon: however, rather than being close to Sclerocephalus, Actinodon was argued by Werneburg & Steyer (1999) to be an eryopid (a temnospondyl group not covered here: I’ll get to them some other time). Sclerocephalidae is thus the correct name here. However, while some studies find Archegosaurus – and hence Archegosauridae – to be well separated in phylogenetic terms from Sclerocephalidae, others have found Archegosaurus to be closely related to the sclerocephalids Cheliderpeton and Sclerocephalus (Klembara & Steyer 2012, McHugh 2012), in which case Sclerocephalidae and Archegosauridae could be considered synonymous.

Ruta et al.’s (2007) temnospondyl phylogeny suggests that the best course of action for these animals might be to recognise Sclerocephalidae, Intasuchidae (for an IntasuchusCheliderpeton clade), Melosauridae, and Archegosauridae within Archegosauroidea/Archegosauriforms.  This is actually pretty much the scheme used by Schoch & Milner (2000) (I think. I still haven’t seen this volume).

Anyway…

Archegosauroids are long-snouted to very long-snouted. The teeth in the posterior part of the premaxilla are larger than those in the maxilla; other distinctive features include the presence of temporal fossae and broad uncinate processes on the ribs. Numerous, well preserved specimens of Sclerocephalus have been described (most from Germany); members of the group are also ‘famous’ due to the enormous size and massively elongate snouts of some species. One in particular has been mentioned in such august publications as the Guinness Book of Records.

Spectacular fossil of Sclerocephalus haeuseri, showing soft tissues around the tail and body. Image by Günter Bechly, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thanks to those numerous German fossils, we have good information on the palaeobiology and ontogeny of Sclerocephalus in particular [image above by Günter Bechly]. Juveniles, less than 100 mm in total length, had external gills, poorly ossified limbs and a tail accounting for about half of the total length. They were apparently slender-bodied active hunters that preyed on crustaceans and plankton. The gills had been lost by the time the animals had reached 300 mm in length. Individuals became morphologically adult at a total length of about 700  mm, and at this time their tail, though still rudder-like, became proportionally shorter and their ribs and vertebrae became more ossified (Lohmann & Sachs 2001).

Tiny Sclerocephalus juvenile (that scale bar = 10 mm), from Lohmann & Sachs (2001).

Only in ‘late adults’ – specimens in which the skull alone might be 200 mm long – were all the bones fully ossified. The lateral line canals present in young specimens became shallower and eventually disappeared in adults, and while this might indicate that they had lost their sensory organs and made the full transition to terrestrial life, the possibility that the sensory organs had migrated out of the periphery of the bone has been raised (Schoch 2001). If this is true then absence of lateral line canals doesn’t necessarily imply loss of the associated sensory organs, and indeed some temnospondyls with a morphology apparently well suited for aquatic life lack lateral line canals entirely.

While juvenile sclerocephalids are known from sediments deposited in large, deep lakes, adults are unknown from such locations and probably only visited them to breed: their well ossified limbs suggest that they were amphibious, and it might be that they were predators of shallow ponds and lakes and frequently moved from one water body to the next. Stomach contents show that adult individuals of Sclerocephalus were predominantly piscivorous, but we also know that they sometimes ate micromelerpetontids, and even other Sclerocephalus individuals (Lohmann & Sachs 2001). In some places Sclerocephalus lived alongside archegosaurids.

Incidentally, the Sclerocephalus species S. haeuseri is unusual among fossil tetrapods in having been divided into two subspecies: S. h. haeuseri and S. h. jeckenbachensis (Boy 1988). This is not without precedent among temnospondyls, as Sulej (2002) split the metoposaurid species Metoposaurus diagnosticus into two subspecies as well (M. d. diagnosticus and M. d. krasiejowensis). Nameable subdivisions must, of course, exist among fossil species just as they do in living ones; it’s just that our convention has also been to erect new species when sufficient differences are found. As usual, it always comes back to the argument over what the hell a ‘species’ is (still too few people realize that species concepts across animal groups are in no way comparable or equal).

Archegosaurus and the melosaurines

Skull of a large adult Archegosaurus decheni (from Witzmann 2006b) in dorsal and ventral view, showing the 'semi-spatulate' snout form referred to in the text. This skull is 280 mm long.

Archegosaurids are Permo-Carboniferous archegosauroids, initially described from Europe but later discovered in Russia and Brazil. The type taxon for the group, Archegosaurus decheni, is known from numerous specimens belonging to different growth stages. They show that the skull increased markedly in length during ontogeny, with adults (skull length as much as 280 mm) having slender, semi-spatulate snouts where the lateral margins (as seen from above) are slightly concave posterior to the nostrils. In contrast, younger animals (skull length as short as 18 mm) have blunter, shorter snouts without the semi-spatulate form (Witzmann 2006a, Witzmann & Scholz 2007). Ossification is substantially delayed in Archegosaurus, with its scales, pectoral girdle bones and hyoid bones all ossifying much later in development than is normal for temnospondyls. This is almost certainly an evolutionary response to an aquatic lifestyle and hence an advanced feature, not a ‘primitive’ one (Witzmann 2006a).

Markus Bühler's model of a live Archegosaurus, as displayed at Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.

A supposed second species of Archegosaurus, A. dyscriton, was originally named Memonomenos and thought for a while to be an anthracosaur or anthracosaur relative (and hence as nowhere close to temnospondyls in phylogenetic terms). Intriguingly, A. dyscriton does not group together with A. decheni in recent phylogenies (Ruta et al. 2007) and hence the name Memonomenos may warrant resurrection.

Skull of Melosaurus compilatus (from Golubev 1995): note the broad anterior margins of the premaxillae and the 'pinched-in' lateral margins of the snout posterior to the nostrils. Skull c. 280 mm long.

A mostly Russian archegosauroid group termed Melosaurinae includes taxa that possess snouts where the anterior edges of the premaxillae are far broader than those of Archegosaurus. They also possess the ‘pinched-in’ part of the snout just posterior to the nostrils.

Melosaurus Meyer, 1857, Konzhukovia Gubin, 1991, Tryphosuchus Konzhukova, 1955, Koinia Gubin, 1993 and Uralosuchus Gubin, 1994 are all members of this group, though an alternative classification scheme where Melosauridae is recognized as a ‘family’ that contains a Melosaurinae and a Tryphosuchinae is used by some (e.g., Golubev 1995, Schoch & Milner 2000).

The largest melosaurines were about 3 m long. They seem to have been aquatic ambush predators of smaller temnospondyls and other prey, though I wonder if that semi-duckbilled snout shape played some unusual role in foraging or prey capture.

I’ve discussed Archegosaurus together with the melosaurines here since both groups are ‘short-snouted’ compared to the gharial-snouted archegosaurids we’re about to look at. However, Ruta et al. (2007) found a sister-group relationship between Archegosaurus and the gharial-snouted forms; Melosaurinae being the sister-group to this clade.

Gharial-snouted archegosaurids

Remarkably long mandibular symphysis of the long-snouted Brazilian archegosaurid Bageherpeton (from Dias & Barbarena 2001).

While the members of several temnospondyl groups – such as the trematosaurids looked at previously and the rhinesuchoids – possess elongate jaws, some archegosaurids possess really elongate jaws where the snout is slender and gharial-like and the mandibular symphysis is strikingly long. Gubin (1991) united the gharial-snouted forms in the new group Platyoposaurinae.

This gharial-like condition in present in Platyoposaurus, Baschkirosaurus and the famous Prionosuchus, but the most extreme mandibular symphysis is that present in Bageherpeton longignathus from the Late Permian Rio do Rasto Formation of Brazil (Dias & Barbarena 2001): in this animal, even the precoronoid bones (ordinarily not involved in the symphysis) are elongated and form part of the symphysis. Another peculiarity of Bageherpeton is that the bone along the dorsal midline of the symphysis is raised upwards relative to the jaw edges (Dias & Barbarena 2001). This is presumably related in some way to prey capture, but your guess is as good as mine.

Associated skeletons of Platyoposaurus from Russia and Archegosaurus from Germany show that archegosaurids had long bodies and long tails, but rather small limbs, and they almost certainly swam by way of lateral undulations (Witzmann & Schoch 2006). Here’s an image I found online of what appears to be a reconstructed Platyoposaurus skeleton: unfortunately, I don’t know anything about where it comes from, who took the photo, or how much of it represents extrapolation or guesswork. Anybody know anything about it? And that tail is not proportionally long, despite what I just said.

One of these animals, Prionosuchus plummeri from Middle Permian Brazil, was enormous, with one specimen possessing a skull estimated at 1.6 m in length. Associated postcrania show that it was similar in overall body shape to smaller archegosaurids, and on the basis of this, combined with data from modern gharials (which seem to have been similarly proportioned to long-snouted archegosaurids), Cox & Hutchinson (1991) implied that Prionosuchus might have had a total length of around 10 metres (in which case it’s the world’s largest temnospondyl and – I think – largest non-amniote tetrapod). Long-snouted archegosaurids including Prionosuchus were almost certainly piscivores that caught prey by using rapid lateral snapping of their long jaws. That’s about all we know as goes the palaeobiology of these remarkable temnospondyls; at this stage, anything else is speculation.

Holotype snout of the giant Brazilian archegosaurid Prionosuchus plummeri, from Price (1948).

I haven’t mentioned all of the archegosauroid taxa here, let alone discussed them all. But consider this a basic introduction to one of the most fascinating and remarkable of temnospondyl clades. Note that they are not especially close relatives of the similarly long-snouted trematosauroids we looked at recently – the similarity is convergent. Furthermore, there are other gharial-snouted temnospondyl groups too…

For previous Tet Zoo articles on temnospondyls, see…

Refs – -

Boy, J. A. 1988. Über einige Vertreter der Eryopidea (Amphibia : Temnospondyli) aus dem europäischen Rotliegend (?höchstes Karbon – Perm). 1. Sclerocephalus. Paläontologische Zeitschrift 62, 107-132.

Cox, C. B. & Hutchinson, P. 1991. Fishes and amphibians from the Late Permian Pedra de Fogo Formation of northern Brazil. Palaeontology 34, 561-573.

Dias, E. V. & Barbarena, M. C. 2001. A temnospondyl amphibian from the Rio do Rasto Formation, Upper Permian of southern Brazil. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 73, 135-143.

Golubev, V. K. 1995. New species of Melosaurus (Amphibia, Labyrinthodontia) from the Kazanian of the Kama River drainage Area. Paleontological Journal 29, 107-119.

Gubin. Y. M. 1991. (Permian archegosauroid amphibians of the USSR). Trudy Pal Inst Akad Nauk SSSR 249, 1-138.

Klembara, J. & Steyer, J. S. 2012. A new species of Sclerocephalus (Temnospondyli: Stereospondylomorpha) from the Early Permian of the Boskovice Basin (Czech Republic). Journal of Paleontology 86, 302-310.

Lohmann, U. & Sachs, S. 2001. Observations on the postcranial morphology, ontogeny and palaeobiology of Sclerocephalus haeuseri (Amphibia: Actinodontidae) from the Lower Permian of southwest Germany. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 46, 771-781.

McHugh, J. B. 2012. Temnospondyl ontogeny and phylogeny, a window into terrestrial ecosystems during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. University of Iowa, dissertation (available at http://ir.uiowa.edu/etd/2942).

Price, L. I. 1948, Um anfibio Labirinthodonte da formacao Pedra de Fogo, Estado do Maranhao. Ministerio da Agricultura, Departamento Nacional da Producao ineral Divisao de Geologia e Mineralogia, Boletim 124, 7-32.

Ruta, M., Pisani, D., Lloyd, G. T. & Benton, M. J. 2007. A supertree of Temnospondyli: cladogenetic patterns in the most species-rich group of early tetrapods. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 274, 3087-3095.

Schoch, R. R. 2001. Can metamorphosis be recognised in Palaeozoic amphibians? Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 220, 335-367.

- . & Milner, A. R. 2000. Handbuch der Paläoherpetologie: Teil 3B, Stereospondyli. Pfeil, Munich.

Sulej, T. 2002. Species discrimination of the Late Triassic temnospondyl amphibian Metoposaurus diagnosticus. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 47, 535-546.

Werneburg, R. & Steyer, J.-S. 1999. Redescription of the holotype of Actinodon frossardi (Amphibia, Temnospondyli) from the Lower Permian of the Autun basin (France). Geobios 32, 599-607.

Witzmann, F. 2006a. Developmental patterns and ossification sequence in the Permo-Carboniferous temnospondyl Archegosaurus decheni (Saar-Nahe Basin, Germany). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26, 7-17.

- . 2006b. Cranial anatomy and ontogeny of the Permo-Carboniferous temnospondyl Archegosaurus decheni from the Saar-Nahe Basin, Germany. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences 96, 131-162.

- . & Schoch, R. R. 2006. The postcranium of Archegosaurus decheni and a phylogenetic analysis of temnospondyl postcrania. Palaeontology 49, 1211-1235.

- . & Scholz, H. 2007. Morphometric study of allometric skull growth in the temnospondyl Archegosaurus decheni from the Permian/Carboniferous of Germany. Geobios 40, 541-554.

Yates, A. M. & Warren, A. A. 2000. The phylogeny of the “higher” temnospondyls (Vertebrata: Choanata) and its implications for the monophyly and origins of the Stereospondyli. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 128, 77-121.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





Rights & Permissions

Comments 33 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. David Marjanović 12:14 pm 04/16/2013

    I’m currently finding these animals to form a series of outgroups to the one stereospondyl in my matrix.

    Prionosuchus, with human to scale

    Or anyway for decoration. The humans in that kind of pictures are usually not to scale.

    Excellent life-sized Sclerocephalus model (perhaps with anachronistic flora)

    I also wonder about that cryptobranchid-style skin fold along the sides.

    Ruta et al.’s (2007) temnospondyl phylogeny suggests

    But then, it’s a supertree. It can’t provide any new information, only summarize and average known results.

    Markus Bühler’s model of a live Archegosaurus, as displayed at Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.

    The other copies (one brown without the spots, the other grey), and the mold for making them, are on the shelf behind me right now! :-)

    A supposed second species of Archegosaurus, A. dycriton

    A. dyscriton. IIRC, it’s being redescribed or something.

    Gubin (1991) united the gharial-snouted forms in the new group Platyoposaurinae.

    Some people, myself included, find them closer to Stereospondyli than Archegosaurus is.

    Here’s an image I found online of what appears to be a reconstructed Platyoposaurus skeleton: unfortunately, I don’t know anything about where it comes from, who took the photo, or how much of it represents extrapolation or guesswork. Anybody know anything about it?

    Florian has been there and taken photos himself; I’ll ask him tomorrow.

    =========================

    Further reading:

    Redescription of Sclerocephalus (four species) with phylogenetic analysis:
    Schoch, R. R. & Witzmann, F. 2009a. Osteology and relationships of the temnospondyl genus Sclerocephalus. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 157, 135–168.

    Description of a new species that the authors referred to Sclerocephalus even though, according to their own phylogenetic analysis, that makes S. paraphyletic:
    Klembara, J. & Steyer, J. S. 2012. A new species of Sclerocephalus (Temnospondyli: Stereospondylomorpha) from the Early Permian of the Boskovice basin (Czech Republic). Journal of Paleontology 86, 302–310.

    Description of “Cheliderpeton latirostre” as a new genus with two species, Glanochthon latirostris and G. angusta; contains a phylogenetic analysis:
    Schoch, R. R. & Witzmann, F. 2009b. The temnospondyl Glanochthon from the Lower Permian Meisenheim Formation of Germany. Special Papers in Palaeontology 81, 121–136.

    Redescription of the real Cheliderpeton:
    Werneburg, R. & Steyer, J. S. 2002. Revision of Cheliderpeton vranyi Fritsch [small capitals], 1877 (Amphibia, Temnospondyli) from the Lower Permian of Bohemia (Czech Republic). Paläontologische Zeitschrift 76: 149–162.

    PDFs are available.

    Link to this
  2. 2. David Marjanović 12:23 pm 04/16/2013

    Forgot to mention that I had never heard of Lohmann & Sachs (2001). What a weird choice to publish that paper in the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum.

    Link to this
  3. 3. ectodysplasin 2:17 pm 04/16/2013

    On the other hand, I find the McHugh placement of archegosaurids within eryopoids+edopoids to be rather compelling. There are a number of palatal and occipital characteristics we see in stereospondyls and dvinosaurs that are absent in edopoids, eryopoids, and archegosaurids.

    Link to this
  4. 4. David Marjanović 4:32 pm 04/16/2013

    The occiput is underrepresented in my matrix, that’s true. That said, Eryops and Edops come out rather close to Stereospondylomorpha at the moment, IIRC.

    I need to process Werneburg’s 2012 paper.

    Link to this
  5. 5. jeiman 9:12 am 04/17/2013

    I would guess Carl Buell is the creator of that Prionosuchus.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Neil K. 10:55 am 04/17/2013

    I’ve been curious for some time about that “babes and dead things” paleo-reconstruction trope which is scattered about the intertubes. If memory serves, you have including some of these before, maybe Purussaurus. Anyway, I think I’ve traced it back to:

    川崎 悟司 Kawasaki Satoshi, on twitter as @Satoshikawasaki

    I’m not sure if he developed the genre, or merely elevated it to a high art, but he seems to be the creator of many of these, and I suspect is the likely creator of this Prionosuchus. He has a few books, all in Japanese I think.

    Link to this
  7. 7. naishd 11:52 am 04/17/2013

    Yup, I was also informed via twitter that it’s Satoshi Kawasaki.

    Thanks for comments so far. Some colleagues have rightfully pointed out that the 10 m length estimate for Prionosuchus is speculative and probably an over-estimate (perhaps a substantial one).

    Darren

    Link to this
  8. 8. Juan Cisneros 7:56 am 04/18/2013

    Thanks for writing this article. These creatures need more love. As others pointed out, Prionosuchus length is over-estimated, a 5m figure is more realistic. Still a scary creature under the water.

    Link to this
  9. 9. David Marjanović 11:34 am 04/18/2013

    The reconstructed Platyoposaurus skeleton is in Moscow, in the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It’s not clear how much of the postcranium is extrapolation, but the tail may be incomplete and the extremities and the last few dorsal ribs may not be real, says Florian.

    Link to this
  10. 10. John Scanlon FCD 1:08 pm 04/18/2013

    What a weird choice to publish that paper in the Memoirs of the Queensland Museum
    I’ve often thought the same thing about some of my papers… but at least the Mem Qd Mus website doesn’t crash every time anymore, and archival papers are gradually becoming freely (if not simply) available as pdfs.

    The QM has had a small number of people doing vertebrate palaeo research continuously since Devis (who was not especially good at it) and the Memoirs has done a number of symposium issues based on CAVEPS and similar meetings. Europeans like to visit Australia. Connect the dots.

    Link to this
  11. 11. David Marjanović 2:23 pm 04/18/2013

    but at least the Mem Qd Mus website doesn’t crash every time anymore, and archival papers are gradually becoming freely (if not simply) available as pdfs.

    Found it!!! Page 771 is “420 of 440″.

    Europeans like to visit Australia.

    To accidentally get killed? ~:-|

    Link to this
  12. 12. David Marjanović 2:29 pm 04/18/2013

    …Oh. Sachs actually was at the Queensland Museum at the time, and Lohmann was at “James Cook University, Townsville”. I guess that explains things.

    Link to this
  13. 13. David Marjanović 2:36 pm 04/18/2013

    Direct link to the page.

    Link to this
  14. 14. Yodelling Cyclist 2:46 pm 04/18/2013

    Idly curious, and completely off-topic, are there any plans for a human based tet zoo? I mean, we’re fairly odd primates, our meandering evolution has got to be worth a post (although I accept that this can be said about many other species).

    Link to this
  15. 15. Andreas Johansson 2:52 pm 04/18/2013

    To accidentally get killed? ~:-|

    Australian never kills anyone accidentally. ;)

    Link to this
  16. 16. Andreas Johansson 2:52 pm 04/18/2013

    That was supposed to say “Australia never …”, dammit.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Heteromeles 6:21 pm 04/18/2013

    @yodelling cyclist: I think Darren publishes that one at boingboing.net

    Link to this
  18. 18. David Marjanović 8:45 am 04/19/2013

    our meandering evolution has got to be worth a post

    The problem there is the lack of phylogenetic analyses. Thomas Holtz snarked about this on Twitter and Facebook just a few days ago: “Australopithecus sediba, a mosaic? If only we had a method to sort out potential evolutionary relationships…”

    Proverb: The closer you get to humans, the worse the science gets.

    Link to this
  19. 19. naishd 9:09 am 04/19/2013

    What an odd coincidence: I happen to be writing about hominin phylogeny – literally – right now. It isn’t that people haven’t tried to work out the phylogenetic relationships of hominins (e.g., Strait et al. 1997, Wood & Collard 1999), it’s that the nomenclature they stick with is mired in conservative tradition and social inertia. There is unashamed acceptance, for example, of the idea that Australopithecus is radically paraphyletic (and probably best restricted to A. africanus alone) and that Homo habilis and H. rudolfensis are not members of Homo at all, but nobody wants to act on these issues and hence we’re left with vague grades and the idea that anything goes when it comes to detailed affinities. Those researchers who do speak up and call for revision (see Tattersall’s 1996 The Fossil Trail) are mostly ignored as radical splitters.

    The epitome of this trend is Homo floresiensis, placed within Homo because it’s geologically young and hence can’t be anything else. Yet in just about all of the detailed bits of anatomy that we have data on (wrist, mandible, shoulder, limb proportions), it’s about as different from Homo as you can get and most likely fits within the australopithecine grade (probably as a new ‘genus’).

    Rant over.

    Darren

    Refs – -

    Strait, D. S., Grine, F. E. & Moniz, M. A. 1997. A reappraisal of early hominid phylogeny. Journal of Human Evolution 32, 17-82.

    Wood, B. & Collard, M. 1999. The human genus. Science 284, 65-71.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Dartian 10:37 am 04/19/2013

    Darren:
    “Homo floriensis”

    Psst, it’s floresiensis.

    Apart from that, I agree with everything you say in both those paragraphs. Wholeheartedly.

    As for solutions to this problem… well, personally I’m more and more starting to prefer the option of placing all fossil hominins, and the chimpanzee and the bonobo, in Homo. Although I do realise that some might consider that a tad radical.

    Link to this
  21. 21. Andreas Johansson 10:57 am 04/19/2013

    @Darren: Is this something you’ll be publishing here? Looking forward to it if so.

    Link to this
  22. 22. BrianL 11:35 am 04/19/2013

    Darren, do you feel like hinting at some of your thoughts regarding the ‘proper’ classification of hominines?

    Link to this
  23. 23. Yodelling Cyclist 6:47 pm 04/19/2013

    Well I look forward to the article.

    Link to this
  24. 24. David Marjanović 9:03 am 04/20/2013

    Although I do realise that some might consider that a tad radical.

    Heh. Linnaeus’ rant to Gmelin about the total lack of genus-level differences between Homo and Simia* comes to mind.

    * The monkey genus. Turned into such a mess that the ICZN has suppressed it.

    Link to this
  25. 25. David Marjanović 9:56 am 04/20/2013

    …Didn’t the paper (in Nature or Science) that described Kenyanthropus platyops refer H. rudolfensis to Kenyanthropus and H. habilis to Australopithecus?

    Link to this
  26. 26. naishd 11:15 am 04/20/2013

    David: the paper (Leakey et al. 2001) says that “transfer of [H. rudolfensis] to Australopithecus has been recommended, but Kenyanthropus may be a more appropriate genus” (p. 439), but that’s it. A paper published last year by the same team (on new H. rudolfensis specimens) continues to regard these species as members of Homo.

    And — yes (comments 21-23), I will discuss primate history at length here sometime.

    Darren

    Leaky, M. G., Spoor, F., Brown, F. H., Gathogo, P. N., Kiarie, C., Leakey, L. N. & McDougall, I. 2001. New hominin genus from eastern Africa shows middle Pliocene lineages. Nature 410, 433-440.

    Link to this
  27. 27. David Marjanović 12:08 pm 04/20/2013

    And — yes (comments 21-23), I will discuss primate history at length here sometime.

    :-)

    Link to this
  28. 28. Dartian 5:34 am 04/22/2013

    David:
    The monkey genus. Turned into such a mess that the ICZN has suppressed it.

    Colin Groves wrote about that in his 2008 book Long Lost Cousins (highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the history of primatology, BTW). It’s been a while since I read it; wasn’t the reason for the suppression the impossibility to pin down exactly which monkey species Linnaeus was referring to with “Simia“?

    Darren:
    I will discuss primate history at length here sometime

    Yay! :)

    Link to this
  29. 29. Lars Dietz 6:46 am 04/22/2013

    Dartian: Linnaeus included all monkeys and apes then known in the genus Simia. When it was split up, different authors started using it for different kinds of primates, I’ve seen it used for orangs, chimpanzees, and macaques. Of course, Linnaeus had not designated a type species, as that concept didn’t exist back then. So the ICZN decided to suppress the name completely. The ICZN report on this is online here.
    I haven’t read Groves’ book, it sounds interesting.

    Link to this
  30. 30. David Marjanović 11:09 am 04/22/2013

    Found the letter where Linnaeus complained (next to note 7) about having to keep Homo and Simia apart for fear of “all theologians” and rhetorically cried for a single genus-level difference between them.

    all monkeys and apes then known

    (Except Homo troglodytes, a mixture of chimpanzees, mythical cavemen that provided the name, and possibly orang-utans.

    …Oh, and look at this. I had no idea!)

    Of course, Linnaeus had not designated a type species, as that concept didn’t exist back then.

    Yep. Linnaeus thought everything was plain obvious. He didn’t designate type specimens either; that concept barely dates to the mid-19th century.

    I’ve seen a very old biology schoolbook that called the orang-utans Simia satyrus.

    Link to this
  31. 31. Lars Dietz 12:13 pm 04/22/2013

    Yes, Simia satyrus is also a mixture of chimps and orangs. The name was suppressed in the same ICZN decision that also suppressed the genus name Simia (and Pithecus, which has a similarly confusing history). And I didn’t know about Homo lar either. Here is the original description (p. 521). It seems to refer to gibbons in general.

    Link to this
  32. 32. Dartian 2:37 am 04/23/2013

    Lars and David: Thanks for the clarification!

    “Homo troglodytes, a mixture of chimpanzees, mythical cavemen that provided the name, and possibly orang-utans

    …and sometimes also confused with ‘pygmies’.

    The chimpanzee, of course, is today known scientifically as Pan troglodytes. That name is not based on Linnaeus’ “Homo troglodytes“, which has been suppressed by the ICZN. The author of the chimpanzee’s species name is Blumenbach (1775), who called it Simia troglodytes, whereas the chimpanzee’s genus name, Pan, comes from Oken, 1816. Oken’s publication didn’t use binomial nomenclature consistently and is thus technically invalid, but the ICZN specifically validated his work for nomenclatural purposes. (As if this wasn’t confusing enough, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire gave the chimpanzee the genus name Troglodytes in 1812. That name, however, turned out to be preoccupied by a wren.)

    Considering this messy nomenclatural history it is interesting to note that we’ve now reached a point where we’re able to seriously contemplate the option of sinking the chimpanzee genus Pan into Homo (which has priority). Homo troglodytes may yet return…

    I had no idea!

    Yeah, old man Linnaeus was full of surprises, wasn’t he? For reasons best known to himself, he did indeed place the (lar) gibbon in the genus Homo! (Although I very much doubt that Linnaeus ever actually saw a live gibbon.)

    Link to this
  33. 33. David Marjanović 8:12 am 04/23/2013

    That name is not based on Linnaeus’ “Homo troglodytes“, which has been suppressed by the ICZN.

    Wow.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X