Tetrapod Zoology

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Among the most controversial and remarkable of living tetrapods are the bizarre amphisbaenians: a group of fossorial, long-bodied carnivorous animals with reduced or absent limbs, spade-shaped or bullet-shaped skulls strongly modified for burrowing, and an annulated body where distinct, regularly arranged transverse segments give the animals a worm-like appearance. Until recently it was generally thought that amphisbaenians are reptiles, and part of Squamata (the reptile group that includes the snakes and lizards). But, in a fascinating case of multi-disciplinary co-operation involving genetics, neophenetics, and good old-fashioned critical thinking, intuition and balls, a daring group of feisty young zoologists have challenged the old guard of the ‘Mammals are Derived Synapsids, y’all’ (or MADsy) school of thought, and have demonstrated that these are not mere squirmy reptiles: they are the true ancestors of mammals…

The first authors to formally suggest a non-reptilian affinity for amphisbaenians published their observations in the 1940s and 50s (Zangerl 1945, Kesteven 1957). In a classic case of textbook orthodoxy triumphing over the brilliantly shining light of massive truthfulness, their work was all but ignored in what amounts to a conspiracy of some sort, and the more media-friendly idea that mammals descended from Palaeozoic synapsids like Dimetrodon took centre stage (e.g., Remor 1979, 1980). However, animals like Dimetrodon clearly come loaded with too much baggage to serve as mammal ancestors! They are way too big (Dimetrodon was about the size of a man!), and the two or three characters they share with mammals must have arisen by way of similar lifestyles! We are therefore left searching for the true mammal ancestor! And this is where amphisbaenians come in!!

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After being all but ignored in the literature on mammal origins for several decades, an impressive list of unassailable genetic papers (Koch & Wyman 2007 and references therein) have now shown that mammals are actually nested within the amphisbaenian radiation (Koch & Wyman 2007 and references therein). Initially this might sound remarkable but, after thinking about it a bit, a number of workers have reassessed some of the older literature – much of which shows that the character evidence linking mammals to amphisbaenians is compelling, well documented, well established, meticulously detailed, and deserving of other such terms (Koch & Wyman 2007 and references therein). We don’t need to worry about looking critically at the genetic data (Koch & Wyman 2007 and references therein), as few people really understand genetic stuff anyway, and no one really reads the methods sections of papers anymore (Koch & Wyman 2007 and references therein).

The evidence from behaviour

Relatively little is known about amphisbaenian biology and behaviour. What we do know, however, shows that these animals share more in common with mammals than with other amniotes. In one of the few taxa for which a large amount of data on population structure has been collected, Bipes (the Mexican limbed amphisbaenians: one is shown below), Papenfuss (1982) concluded that the animals were K-selected, exhibiting delayed maturity, small clutch size, and non-annual reproduction. Does this sound like typical reptile behaviour to you? Of course not, it is part of the overwhelming body of evidence linking amphisbaenians to mammals.

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Among mammals, an incredible plethora of tunnel-excavating habits continue to be practised even by more recently evolved lineages, and are manifested by such activities as trench warfare, the Channel Tunnel, the London underground, the salt-mining culture of the elephants of Mount Elgon, the propensity for humans to dig tunnels on sandy beaches, and that dude who lived in a hole for years. Is it a coincidence that people seek out caves and tunnels to explore and wonder at while on holiday? Many people admit to psychiatrists that they dream of burrowing and tunnelling. And let us not forget that millions of people travel to and from work on a daily basis via subterranean tunnels, showing a statistical preference for this mode of travel rather than for the supra-terrestrial environment shunned by our amphisbaenian ancestors. In all this data, we have irrefutable evidence pointing to our subterranean, amphisbaenian ancestry.

The evidence from soft-tissue anatomy

In their often pinkish colour, amphisbaenians share an important synapomorphy with mammals, most of which are pinkish when shaved. This character is best expressed in Bipes, and in the desert sharks and allghoi-khorkhoi (more on these taxa in a minute), but it is also widespread within amphisbaenid amphisbaenians. Some amphisbaenian taxa are capable of autotomy (the defensive shedding of the tail when it’s grabbed by a predator), another similarity shared with mammals. An often overlooked fact concerning the amphisbaenian body is that, despite the simple, worm-like shape, these animals have a highly complex musculature, as was noted by Camp (1923) and Gans (1978). It has often been stated that mammals owe their complex musculature to the fact that they went through a small-bodied cryptic phase, in which they had to clamber over stones, roots, dinosaur toes etc., but in reality mammalian musculature has been derived directly from the condition present in amphisbaenians.

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A loose skin that is mobile relative to the underlying tissues is also shared by amphisbaenians and fossorial mammals like naked mole-rats Heterocephalus glaber and pet hamsters. Indeed, the amphisbaenian-like Heterocephalus [shown in adjacent image] is one of the most basal of mammals, its poikilothermic physiology (Buffenstein & Yahav 1991) demonstrating that poikilothermy was retained by ancestral mammals and only later modified as mammals began to take to the supra-terrestrial environment.

The evidence from skeletal anatomy

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The short, rigid skulls of amphisbaenians are shockingly mammal-like. Indeed Carl Gans, the great expert on amphisbaenians, has repeatedly noted the similarity evident between amphisbaenian and mammal skulls (Gans 1969, 1974), drawing special attention to this in his 1974 volume Biomechanics: An Approach to Vertebrate Biology. Here, Gans noted the strong similarity between the skull of the trogonophid Agamodon and that of a cat (Gans 1974, p. 134, Fig. 4-10: shown in adjacent image), describing how ‘a comparison between the skull of a cat and that of the trogonophid Agamodon documents the … similarity which … [shows] that the skulls of amphisbaenians most [resemble] those of mammals’. Later, Gans showed how the jaw motion of Agamodon is strikingly like that of elephants and other placental mammals (Gans 1974, p. 178, Fig. 4-40: shown at very top of article).

The cranial bones of amphibaenians overlap one another extensively, meeting at strongly interdigitated sutures, again as they do in mammals. A whopping big coronoid process on the amphisbaenian mandible is again a shared character present in mammals, though admittedly this character is labile and has coincidentally popped up in various reptile lineages. Labouring under the mistaken assumption of a reptilian identity for amphisbaenians, zoologists have interpreted one of the most unusual features of the amphisbaenian skull – the extracolumella, a structure that links the side of the jaw to the ear – as a character of reptilian flavour, and perhaps as a unique evolutionary solution to the problem of sound conduction. However, Wever & Gans (1973) noted that the extracolumella is ‘not homologous to the structure of the same name in lizards’ (p. 189), and Gans (1978) reiterated that it ‘is not directly homologous with the structure of that name seen in the Sauria and Sphenodon‘ (p. 377).

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Given that the ear bones of mammals are really complicated and are known to have somehow been modified from bits and pieces that used to be at the back of the lower jaw, it is unarguably logical to conclude that the freaky stuff going on in the amphisbaenian lower jaw and ear region offers us the real answer to mammalian ear evolution. By employing OOA (obfuscatory ocular analysis, or squinting), Ratsarse (2006) was able to show that amphisbaenian skulls are highly similar to those of mammals, the extracolumella looking like some sort of magic streak showing the viewer where all the funky evolutionary pazazz is occurring, especially when it’s highlighted in red as shown here.

Gans (1974) noted that, by depicting amphisbaenian skulls within transformation grids, the long and low, superficially squamate-like skulls of trogonophid amphisbaenians could be ‘morphed’ into the short, mammal-like skulls of taxa like Agamodon (the latter one of the key taxa demonstrating the true affinities of the Amphisbaenia). In fact, Gans simply got it the wrong way round, as we now know that the mammal-like Agamodon skull is primitive, and it is the squamate-like skull of Trogonophis and similar taxa that are derived. Any idiot can see this, it’s soooooooo obvious.

Another important feature that amphisbaenians share with mammals is the mysterious reduction of the pelvis. Whereas animals with reduced limbs typically lose their forelimbs and retain their hindlimbs (look at pythons and reduced-limbed lizards), some amphisbaenians retain forelimbs and a pectoral girdle, yet have completely lost the hindlimbs and only possess a relictual pelvis consisting of the ilium alone (Kearney 2002). Where else do we see this unusual pattern? In reptiles? Hell-o, heavens no: in mammals, just look at whales! Again this is an important shared character demonstrating the amphisbaenian heritage of Mammalia. This self-evident evidence is so evident that it has been ignored by many so-called experts; they have brushed it under the carpet, donned blinkers, thrown up their arms, and uttered ‘harrumph!’. In short, anything other than consider the obvious TRUTH.

A transition lost in time, ignored by orthodoxy

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Elsewhere in classic zoological literature, we can see that Dixon (1981) knew full well that amphisbaenians gave rise to mammals, and that the earliest mammals were fossorial amphisbaenian-like creatures: an assertion demonstrated by the existence within Dixon’s work of the desert sharks Psammonarus. These sausage-shaped predators are perfect evolutionary intermediates between the Amphisbaenia and Mammalia.

While at least some of the creatures described by Dixon (1981) are generally accepted as hypothetical, recent work has demonstrated that a surprising number of genuine creatures were included as well: we can assume that, eschewing the hidebound, tediously slow, reactionary work of the peer-reviewed journal system, Dixon [shown in image below] snuck genuine zoological discoveries into his work, knowing full well that smart people would spot them for the real creatures they obviously are. The swimming ‘monkey’ Natopithecus ranapes Dixon, 1981, for example, has since been shown to be a pre-emptive description of the aquatic primates later described by Coleman & Huyghe (1999), the Flooer Florifacies mirabila was an accurate description of the flower-faced snouters Cephalanthus described by Stümpke (1957)*, while the insectivorous tree drummers (Proboscicuncus) were evidently based on somewhat garbled descriptions of the remarkable Peruvian murid Rhagomys longilingua (Luna & Patterson 2002).

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* Unfortunately, Dixon was unaware of Stümpke’s prior description of this form (D. Dixon, pers. comm.). Rhinogradentians were covered at Tet Zoo here and here.

We can therefore assume that Dixon learnt of Psammonarus at one of the many palaeontology conferences he attends: admittedly, no published abstract or article attests to the description of such a creature, and we are forced to conclude that it was deleted from the place of publication and its authors assassinated; possibly, those in control of the MADsy conspiracy somehow travelled back in time and erased Psammonarus from the technical literature, as this is the sort of thing they do.

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Evidently closely related to Psammonarus, and even closer to Mammalia than are other amphisbaenians, is the specialised relict form of Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the Allghoi-khorkhoi or Mongolian death-worm Dinovermis mackerlei, a controversial animal suggested to be mythical or semi-fictional by some, but known to be real by those who care. Originally suggested to be an annelid or burrowing snake (Shuker 2003), the truncated tail, pinkish hue, annulated body, amphisbaenian-style demeanour, and DNA of the Allghoi-khorkhoi have since demonstrated its amphisbaenian identity (Koch & Wyman 2007 and references therein).

Dinovermis is of course not called the death-worm for nothing: it is venomous, and here we find the key synapomorphy linking this animal with mammals: not only are living primitive mammals – like monotremes, shrews and solenodons – venomous, we now know that venomosity was widespread in early mammals (Hurum et al. 2006). Only in the light of the amphisbaenian origin model does mammalian venomosity make any sort of sense. Dinovermis is also electrogenic (that is, able to generate an electric field), a fact unnervingly similar to the fact that electroreceptive abilities are present in those primitive mammals, the monotremes (and perhaps also in moles and other mammals). Electrogenic fish usually have electroreceptive abilities, so we can safely infer that electrogenic and electroreceptive abilities were primitive for mammals, but that the electrogenic ability was mostly lost. It wasn’t entirely lost, as some people think that the Giant otter-shrew Potamogale velox is electrogenic; this will doubtless prove correct, and provide yet more affirmation of the amphisbaenian origin model.

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Given that textbook dogma stakes matter-of-fact that mammals supposedly evolved somehow from quadrupedal synapsids of the Palaeozoic, we have to wonder why so many zoologists have fooled themselves into relying on cold, stony fossils, and not on the obvious living evidence that we can glean from the creatures around us today. We have learnt that we need not concern ourselves with Sineoamphisbaena from Upper Cretaceous Mongolia, and other fossils allegedly linked to the amphisbaenians: you might be surprised to hear this coming from a palaeontologist but, well, that’s just how it is. So fossils are vastly over-rated for this sort of thing and can be safely ignored; in fact they may as well not exist.

The presence within amphisbaenians of retractile hemipenes, a squamate-style kidney, a transerve cloacal slit, keratinised scales, a telencephalic roof divided into three cortices, and a squamate-like Jacobson’s organ, are all clearly convergences with squamates. Some scientists, probably looking down from ivory towers or hiding behind the thick hedges of ivy that cover the walls of their colleges, and generally hoping to maintain the MADsy model, continue to deny this, as they have for a while now. But, like Saruman in the second Lord of the Rings movie, it is only a matter of time before the ents of justice arrive, and demonstrate the true, amphisbaenian origin of Mammalia. Then we will be free!

PS – remember to check SV-POW!

Refs – -

Buffenstein, R. & Yahav, S. 1991. Is the naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber, an endothermic yet poikilothermic mammal? Journal of Thermal Biology 16, 227-232.

Camp, C. L. 1923. Classification of the lizards. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 48, 289-481.

Coleman, L. & Huyghe, P. 1999. The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yeti, and Other Mystery Primates Worldwide. Avon Books, New York.

Dixon, D. 1981. After Man: A Zoology of the Future. Granada, London.

Gans, C. 1969. Amphisbaenians – reptiles specialized for a burrowing existence. Endeavour 28, 146-151.

- . 1974. Biomechanics: An Approach to Vertebrate Biology. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Toronto.

- . 1978. The characteristics and affinities of the Amphisbaenia. Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 34, 347-416.

Hurum, J. H., Luo, Z.-X. & Kielan-Jaworowska, Z. 2006. Were mammals originally venomous? Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51, 1-11.

Kearney, M. 2002. Appendicular skeleton in amphisbaenians (Reptilia: Squamata). Copeia 2002, 719-738.

Kesteven, H. L. 1957. Notes on the skull and cephalic muscles of Amphisbaenia. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 82, 109-116.

Koch, A. & Wyman, J. 2007. Limblessness in amniotes shared by worm-lizards and basal mammals: the data from ribosomal ISBN and ILN genes. Yay Genes, Today! 1, 20-31.

Luna, L. & Patterson, B. D. 2003. A remarkable new mouse (Muridae: Sigmodontinae) from southeastern Peru: with comments on the affinities of Rhagomys rufescens (Thomas, 1886). Fieldiana: Zoology, New Series 101, 1-24.

Papenfuss, T. J. 1982. The ecology and systematics of the amphisbaenian genus Bipes. Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences 136, 1-42.

Ratsarse, M. 2006. OOA as applied to the vexing problem of mammal baramins. Creation Science ‘Journal’ 3, 2-3.

Remor, S. A. 1979. Why Dimetrodon is just way cooler than an amphisbaenian as a mammal ancestor. Big Science 101, 7-10.

- . 1980. Amphisbaenia: you blow! Great Plain Science Musings 75, 556-566.

Shuker, K. P. N. 2003. The Beasts That Hide From Man. Paraview Press, New York.

Stümpke, H. 1967. The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades. The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.

Wever, E. G. & Gans, C. 1973. The ear in Amphisbaenia (Reptilia); further anatomical observations. Journal of Zoology 171, 189-206.

Zangerl, R. 1945. Contributions to the osteology of the post-cranial skeleton of the Amphisbaenidae. American Midland Naturalist 33, 764-780.

Comments

  1. #1 Bent Lindow
    April 1, 2008

    Hi Darren,

    Long time, no see!

    Very interesting, convincing and most authoritative argumentation on the subject, especially given the date ;-)

    Best regards,

    Bent

  2. #2 Neil
    April 1, 2008

    You had me going upyo the read on lol – in my defnse I just got up!

    Fuzzoamphisbaenia is genius!

  3. #3 Nentuaby
    April 1, 2008

    Good lord… And here I thought tinfoiling the bosses’ effort was a lot of effort to put into celebrating the holiday… :O

  4. #4 Nentuaby
    April 1, 2008

    s/bosses’ effort/boss’s office/, of course.

  5. #5 Allen Hazen
    April 1, 2008

    Amazing the bits of evidence that fit in when you think about it! One of the links between some derived Synapsids and Mammals is the differentiation of Thoracic and Lumbar vertebrae. But then there is that salamander-shaped Triconodont that was published last year or the year before– Yanoconodon? — showing that stem mammals had movable lumbar ribs far later than previously realized: as is only to be expected if mammals are derived amphisbaenians. The Lumbar/Thoracic distinction shared by most mammals and a few derived Therapsids MUST be a convergence!

    (For curiosity, what proportion of the references in your post are, um, worth trying to track down? Stumpke and the Hurum et al. paper I am familiar with, but some of the others seem a bit….)

  6. #6 Neil
    April 1, 2008

    Theres a very interesting tetrapod story this morning (here).

    With some pretty impresssive footage on iplayer ;)

  7. #7 Emile
    April 1, 2008

    The title made me start. Then I remembered the date, relaxed, and laughed my amphisbaenian head off throughout the post.

    Fuzzoamphisbaenia indeed.

    PS: Snouters produced flatworms. Wouldn’t it be equally logical to assume that annelids evolved as a sister-group to mammals, within Amphisbaenia?

  8. #8 Mark Lees
    April 1, 2008

    Beautiful, truely beautiful.

    I briefly thought “he’s lost it”, and then ‘doh’.

    I must find use for the line “only a matter of time before the ents of justice arrive”.

    Thank you for a true work of comedy art :)

  9. #9 Susan
    April 1, 2008

    Geeze…You actually had me right up until the second or third paragraph.

  10. #10 John S. Wilkins
    April 1, 2008

    I am in awe of your authoritative discussion of this badly needed gap in our knowledge of the evolution of Mamalia.

  11. #11 Mary Blanchard
    April 1, 2008

    Brilliant! Couldn’t decide whether you or I had gone mad until I read ‘aquatic primates’ and remembered the date!

  12. #12 Jerzy
    April 1, 2008

    I notice a big omission here. Where Tatzelwurm fits in this classification?

  13. #13 Darren Naish
    April 1, 2008

    Jerzy, you’re right – I guess even I cannot pretend to have full command of the literature. Indeed I have overlooked…

    Hervalmens, B. 1954. The tatzelwurm: a relict European amphisbaenian ancestral to man. Bipedia 34, 4-14.

  14. #14 Smilodon
    April 1, 2008

    Brilliant! Now, back to the BBC flying penguins video.

  15. #15 Horwood Beer-Master
    April 1, 2008

    You sodding bastard, you nearly had me! I was just beginning to think “how come I’ve never so much as heard this proposed before” then I got down to ‘evidence from behaviour’ and thought “D’oh!”

    I really must start getting better nights sleep.

  16. #16 HP
    April 1, 2008

    “The salt-mining culture of the elephants of Mount Elgon”? Oh, come on, now. That’s just ridiculous.

    Otherwise, very informative.

  17. #17 Liesele
    April 1, 2008

    Just how much time did you spend on this? Happy 4/1! “such activities as trench warfare, the Channel Tunnel, the London underground, the salt-mining culture of the elephants of Mount Elgon, the propensity for humans to dig tunnels on sandy beaches, and that dude who lived in a hole for years.” was definitely lovely.

  18. #18 J-Dog
    April 1, 2008

    Beautiful post. You just can’t have the prestigious Creation Science Journal 3, 2-3 work of M. Ratarse cited often enough .

    However, I think it should be pointed out that in the 2007 Journal edition 4,1-2, M. Ratsarse updated his seminal work and acknowledged that his earlier baramin work should only be viewed in the light of Genesis, and therefore his overlooking the proper place of the talking snake baramin was both laughable and unforgivable

  19. #19 Jerzy
    April 1, 2008

    @Darren
    Tatzelwurm ancestral to man? Surely to some. Some bankers in Alps are certainly spawn of fat vermin. ;)

  20. #20 Bob K
    April 1, 2008

    Elaborate and amusing.

  21. #21 David Marjanovi?
    April 1, 2008

    Darren, Darren, Darren… what’s up with you? Why do you only tell us half of the story? Surely you have noticed that the aïstopods had no trace of a pelvis, yet kept the fused clavicle and cleithrum!!! Notice also the reduction in their number of skull bones in favour of a seriously ossified braincase, their temporal fenestration, and doubtless lots more of obvious similarities that have yet to be documented by someone with eyes in their head. Poor aïstopods, always neglected, always overlooked, as if we were ashamed of our glorious heritage shared with the noodliest of the lepospondyls…

    (You are right about Sineoamphisbaena, though. It’s just a somewhat deluded macrocephalosaur.)

  22. #22 Nimravid
    April 1, 2008

    You’ve missed your calling. Put a slightly different spin on this (prove evolutionary theory in its entirety wrong!), throw in a couple of study Bible references, and you could get it published in AiG’s sparkly new journal easily.

  23. #23 Sean Craven
    April 1, 2008

    You utter and complete bastard. You had me croggled until the third paragraph at which point I checked the date.

    And now I have more evidence as to how deep the nerd runs through my soul — I honest-to-facts started hyperventilating a little bit and my heart rate is still accelerated.

    Just for that I’m stealing your squamate world for a story.

    I trusted you. Bastard.

  24. #24 johannes
    April 1, 2008

    > the noodliest of the lepospondyls…

    created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in its own image

  25. #25 Barn Owl
    April 1, 2008

    Only an expert could have produced such brilliant parody!

    Love the faux journal names and references, scattered amongst the genuine ones, especially Yay Genes, Today! (which would make a good alternative name for Cell).

    Definitely the highlight of my morning. Now you need an Ent-rhyme about Amphisbaenia…

  26. #26 windy
    April 1, 2008

    Good for you for citing Dixon, but I would also have liked to see some discussion of Herbert. How does the Shai’hulud fit into all of this?

  27. #27 Sally
    April 1, 2008

    You absolutely had me going until the section about tunneling behavior…damn my satire filter needs to be cleaned!

    My hats off, that was brilliant!

  28. #28 Bee
    April 1, 2008

    You just know this is going to turn up eventually in the C&E section of Christian Forums.

    One of the best, if not the best, April 1 posts today – although Deep Sea News is a near contender.

  29. #29 em
    April 1, 2008

    Thanks!
    You totally saved me a long-ass walk to the bus stop & back: I almost forgot to change over my monthly metropass.

    What would I do without Tet Zoo? (The answer is ‘live without knowledge of caecilians or turtle winkies’.)

  30. #30 Monado, FCD
    April 1, 2008

    I am not a biologist, and you had me going until you got to the special pleading about tunnelling behaviour. Very nice construction. Ratsarse, 2006, indeed! Have you thought of submitting it to the Journal of Irreproducible Results?

    Is Psammonarus part of the sand-fairy taxon, as mentioned in Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit? (“The children discover a rather grumpy sand-fairy known as the Psammead.”)

  31. #31 Monado, FCD
    April 1, 2008

    Actually, I think it would look better on the back page of Nature.

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?
    April 1, 2008

    created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster in [His] own image

    R?men, brother. Truly thou art enlightened and touched by His Noodly Appendage.

  33. #33 Cameron
    April 1, 2008

    On first instinct I thought that picture of Bipes was a cheesy photoshop, egads they’re bizarre.

  34. #34 Sven DiMilo
    April 1, 2008

    Ah, Bipes…one of my all-time favorite little bizarritudes. Note also the shared-derived characteristic of foelimbs only, which connects sirenids to sirenians via Bipes.

    Great Plain Science Musings

    My Interlibrary Loan people cannot seem to get this journal from anywhere, despite the many fascinating natural history notes it contains by people like Harry Fitch.

  35. #35 Zach Miller
    April 1, 2008

    Brilliant! I was laughing the whole time, Darren! I fully support this hypothesis!

    Actual question about actual amphisbaenians: Do scientists know where they fall along the Squamata? They’re freaky little worm lizards.

  36. #36 David Marjanovi?
    April 1, 2008

    Actual question about actual amphisbaenians: Do scientists know where they fall along the Squamata?

    The molecular biologists get consistent results now ( = in the last 4 years): right next to Lacertidae, IIRC. Everyone else hardly gets results at all so far, so the molecular hypothesis is running unopposed.

  37. #37 jck
    April 1, 2008

    I awoke this morning and there was an amphisbaenian in my bed! Then I realized I just had to pee.

  38. #38 Moro
    April 1, 2008

    Heh, you had me there for a minute or two.
    Though…I guess, when you think about it, evolving from fish is pretty weird in itself…^^

  39. #39 John Scanlon, FCD
    April 1, 2008

    I’m impressed, and I’d like to see more. Can you flick me a pdf of Koch & Wyman (2007)? – my e-library doesn’t seem to have the journal. This seems to be much better supported than the old idea that amphisbaenians were somehow related to snakes, anyway. I mean, just look at them!

  40. #40 Steve Bodio
    April 1, 2008

    ASTONISHING amount of research!

    I am proud that though I a not a professional I only got in a few paragraphs before I said to Libby “What is the date?!”

  41. #41 Stevo Darkly
    April 1, 2008

    Whoa! I have not read this yet (but I will in a few minutes), but I just wanted to say: Darren, you mentioned this hypothesis in an earlier post and I was intrigued as hell and wanted to know more. Thanks for posting this! I love this bizarre stuff!

  42. #42 Ned Turboprop
    April 1, 2008

    How do caecilians fit into all of this? Surely you can’t explain their vermiformosity, tunneling behavior, loose skin, and so on, as simple convergence?

    Is it true that some caecilians are highly venomous? That’s what they told us at summer camp. My old counselor always said, “Never go in against a caecilian when death is on the line.”

  43. #43 Stevo Darkly
    April 1, 2008

    Ah … okay!

    All right, I printed this out and was able to read it over dinner. (Despite the distractions of all the childish and tiresome ‘attention-getting’ antics of my date — e.g., talking to me, fidgeting, sighing loudly, rolling her eyes, trying to grab the pages out of my hand, whipping out her cell phone and calling her best friend for a ride home, abruptly disappearing, etc. That’s the problem with pretty women, they always have to be in the center of the spotlight … )

    I must say, this is not quite what I expected. I didn’t know it would be so … extensive and well-researched. I would love to look up the items by Remor in particular for further reading.

    All in all, it was a wonderful post. And particularly appropriate for this date — as it happens to be my birthday. This was a wonderful gift. Thank you.

  44. #44 Diego
    April 1, 2008

    That was quite 1st of April LOl-inspiring — a very nice job!

  45. #45 S E E Quine
    April 2, 2008

    ` Wow. I like that! It’s fascinating to me how one can make anything in the world fit some weird and ridiculous hypothesis. (I actually took it serious for about 20 seconds, but then finally said ‘wait a second’ and realized what the date on it was.)
    ` I just might refer to this post on my mad science blog! (It’s almost as exhaustive as the speculative biology of the centaur I found once!) I think it’s a great example of making something fit a hypothesis and ignoring all evidence to the contrary!

    ` P.S. Did you know that rates of AIDS is closely correlated to the sales of videocasette players? It’s true, actually….

  46. #46 Steve Darkly, AKA Norman Wankelrotaryengine
    April 2, 2008

    Is it true that some caecilians are highly venomous? That’s what they told us at summer camp. My old counselor always said, “Never go in against a caecilian when death is on the line.”

    Okay, that made me laugh until I saw stars.

  47. #47 neil
    April 2, 2008

    Crazy stuff, wish I hadn’t lost my copy of Remor (1980)…

  48. #48 Andreas Johansson
    April 2, 2008

    Apparently I’ve gotten cynical in my old age, as I realized what you were up to halfway into the first paragraph.

    It’s stilly an impressive piece of silliness. Now excuse me while I hunt down a copy of Remor 1979 …

  49. #49 J-Dog
    April 2, 2008

    Forgive the double post, but I just had another thought… If you would have called Faux News about this, they would have led with the story – and their talking heads would be all over this. At least until some bright shiny tinfoil or scandal distracted them.

    Good job.

  50. #50 David Marjanovi?
    April 2, 2008

    “Never go in against a caecilian when death is on the line.”

    Could someone explain this joke, please?

  51. #51 Ans
    April 2, 2008

    It’s a pun on a quote from The Princess Bride:

    You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.’

  52. #52 David Marjanovi?
    April 2, 2008

    LOL! Thanks. :-)

  53. #53 Alan Kellogg
    April 3, 2008

    David, scientific types are a punning clan.

  54. #54 David Marjanovi?
    April 3, 2008

    David, scientific types are a punning clan.

    :-D

    I know, I just didn’t have any idea of the original. I didn’t know there was a film called “The Princess Bride” in the first place.

    “…a clan so punning you could put a tail on it and…”

  55. #55 arachnophile
    April 5, 2008

    My god… I’ve never looked forward to April first as much as I do now that I read Tet zoo. ;-p

    I do have to google Dinovermis mackerlei now though. :D

  56. #56 Darren Naish
    April 5, 2008

    Thanks Heather – and I cannot over-emphasise how many in-jokes there are in this article (I’d like to explain them all, but that would be an article in itself). Dinovermis mackerlei incorporates several subject-specific in-jokes. I’d be very interested if the name showed up on google (other than with a link to this article of course).

  57. #57 David Marjanovi?
    April 5, 2008

    and I cannot over-emphasise how many in-jokes there are in this article

    All fear the Mighty Remor! :-D

  58. #58 Kanser
    April 8, 2008

    Couldn’t decide whether you or I had gone mad until I read ‘aquatic primates’ and remembered the date!

  59. #59 Graham King
    April 8, 2008

    BRILLIANT!

    It’s worthy of the Celestial Hall of Comedy Fame, alongside the Two Ronnies ‘four candles’ sketch.

  60. #60 Violet
    November 21, 2009

    Lawl, I’m no biologist and don’t generally care about evolutionary lineages, nor do I look at dates on articles until someone in the comments points it out, but you still managed to amuse me. ^^ (It’s kind of sad, though, that with Internet articles there isn’t really a point in the content at which you definitively KNOW the person is not dead serious. I’ve seen some pretty weird claims that went on passionately for pages and pages…)

    But even so, with all the real Googlable topics mentioned in the joke article, I actually learned things! Amphisbaenians, venomous shrews, monotreme electroreception? This is some neat stuff!

  61. #61 Coral Snake
    September 2, 2010

    Even though I’m still (MADsy) for reasons you will see later I tend to agree with your amphisbaenian / mammal idea.
    However it does ignore one thing and that is where (MADsy)
    continues to come in. That is WHAT DID AMPHISBAENIANS EVOLVE FROM. My guess is that because they are non mamalian physologically that amphisbaenian at the “reptilian” level
    are in fact surviving non mammalian Synapsida and evolved from an earlier limbed non mammalian synapsid form. (Probably the usual late Triassic Trytylodontid or Trythydontid both of which tended toward limb reduction and a very mammalian look in the pelvic bones and skull while still retaining al least partial endothermy and multiple tooth replacements of “reptiles”). Therefore rather than being a totally different origin of mammals from the (MADsy) origin the amphisbaenians prove that the Synapsida and the Sauropsida ARE distinct clades even down to the “reptilian” level with the Synapsids leading to mammals and the Sauropsids leading to birds, crocodiles and modern reptiles (Squamata).

  62. #62 Allen Hazen
    September 2, 2010

    Coral Snake–
    That is a very plausible synthesis of the traditional (MADSy) and Amphisbaenian theories, and the link with Tritylodontids is an intriguing possibility!

    ((Umm… You DID notice that this was an April Fools’ Day article, didn’t you?))

  63. #63 David Marjanović
    September 2, 2010

    Trytylodontid or Trythydontid

    tritylodontids, tritheledontids…

  64. #64 Cal King
    February 18, 2011

    It is so funny reading a cladist, who is dead certain that birds evolved from a dinosaur, writing some deadpan humor, purportedly poking fun at his opponents, but who only succeeds in poking fun at the cladists’ own silliness.

  65. #65 David Marjanović
    February 18, 2011

    Hey! It’s Cal the Creationist! Hi! :-) Now, please point out “the cladists’ own silliness” to me. You see, I’m too stupid to notice it on my own.

  66. #66 David Marjanović
    February 18, 2011

    Uh, sorry. You’re a BANDit instead, right? Can’t keep all those crankeries straight.