It's weird. It's spiky. It needs you to identify it.

Once again I'm in that frustrating position so beloved of bloggers: where life and work just doesn't let you fritter away all those 'spare' hours preparing lengthy blog articles. In the mean time, here's one of those 'mystery pictures' to identify. What is it? Genus will do (I know the species, but that's because I have special data not available from this image). [UPDATE: no more guessing please. Answer below, comment # 31.]

i-7d2cca3b77da619bc045b8ff2945645e-mystery-tetrapod-part-as-usual-easy-for-clever-bastards-June-2011.jpg

While I'm here I may as well mention a few things I won't get to blog about.

Just did the trawling-the-journals thing. New items of much interest include the new long-necked, slender-snouted rhomaleosaurid (see comments) plesiosaur Hauffiosaurus tomistomimus Benson et al., 2011, the Santana Formation ornithocheiroid pterosaur Barbosania gracilirostris Elgin & Frey, 2011 and Cajus Diedrich's paper on cave-haunting cave lions. Some lions got trapped in caves and died there, but taphonomic evidence is argued to show that others deliberately entered the caves in order to prey on hibernating bears (Diedrich 2011). This paper appears in the same issue of Historical Biology as the printed version of my review of Gary Kaiser's The Inner Bird (Naish 2011).

i-612216a45a25e1375ff8a06628e25bf2-Greg-Paul-is-wrong-and-azhdarchids-were-too-nearly-as-tall-as-giraffes-Mark-Witton-June-2011.jpg

Also of interest is Greg Paul's brief recent article in Prehistoric Times where he argues that the biggest azhdarchids were not - contra Witton (and Naish, I suppose) - "as tall as giraffes" (Paul 2011). Mark and I have discussed this and are sure that, because Greg's reconstruction is flawed (for reasons obvious to anyone who's read Witton & Naish (2008)), his assertion is incorrect. A response is in the works. Versions of Mark's giraffe vs azhdarchid picture have appeared on Tet Zoo since September 2007.

Follow me on twitter: @TetZoo.

Refs - -

Diedrich, C. G. 2011. The largest European lion Panthera leo spelaea (Goldfuss 1810) population from the Zoolithen Cave, Germany: specialised cave bear predators of Europe? Historical Biology 23, 271-311.

Naish, D. 2011. Book reviews: The inner bird: anatomy and evolution. em>Historical Biology 23, 313-316.

Paul, G. S. 2011. Azhdarchids were NOT as big as giraffes! Prehistoric Times 97, 22.

Witton, M. P. & Naish, D. 2008. A reappraisal of azhdarchid pterosaur functional morphology and paleoecology. PLoS ONE 3(5): e2271. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002271

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I'm going to guess either Cordylus cataphractus or Uromastyx flavifasciata

It's an ankylosaur of some sort. How about Ankylosaurus itself?

By Michael Richmond (not verified) on 02 Jun 2011 #permalink

I wanted to say something about mothers-in-law but ready wit deserts me. Hmm it looks like a spiny lizard. In fact it looks TOO spiny to be an actual Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus) so I'll go with the back end of a Uromastyx.

By Kattato Garu (not verified) on 02 Jun 2011 #permalink

I have no clue what the picture shows, but I hope these journal-trawling summaries become a regular feature.

Well I've seen some pine-cones that look like that, wait, this is tet zoo, not tet bot, so, I guess a lizard of some sort. Maybe a pine climbing lizard that employs biomimicry, sitting on a pine branch looking all innocent, then ambushing some pine cone predator or symbiont? So, I'll guess a (Australian? Norfolk Island?) xeric pine chameleon, of some unknown-to-scientists genus. But, I could be wrong!

I was going to suggest one of the spiny-tailed Egernia clade, but I think the spine/scales are arranged in the wrong pattern formation. :-(

This is the spiky tail of a ropen - a real live modern day pterodactyl! These ferocious flying monsters are alive and they glow in the dark and have big head crests and live in the mountains on New Guinea and leave trails of light in the sky and have big big wings and they have been seen by missionaries and many many other people and paleontologists are just blinkered and biased because they insist these animals are just old fossils. So, its a ropens tail.

ps - Darwin was wrong, Creationism is the real truth1!

I cast my vote for Cordylus.

Well as long as we're roll-calling rugose lizards, I don't think Saara has been suggested yet. Which, I guess, is a thing again.

I'll go for a Cordylus as well - unless it is the tail of one of those Egernia skinks from Oz that I haven't seen yet

Gonna second that Cordylus cataphractus. The spikes look too long and lightly coloured to be most of the other Cordylus members.

I'll go for a Cordylus as well - unless it is the tail of one of those Egernia skinks from Oz that I haven't seen yet

The spike arrangement reminds me of Varanus acanthurus, but the tail seems too flat. I think I'm going to throw my vote in for one of the Uromastyx critters, like the Saara species neil suggested.

I was going to say the armadillo lizard too, but those spines look too small.

Query: Why assert ANYTHING in Prehistoric Times? It's not a journal, and I don't even think it's that popular of a trade. This is a magazine that David Peters publishes in. This is a magazine I (myself) could publish in, so I don't really give it much credit.

Uromastyx hardwickii

By Bernard Guerrero (not verified) on 02 Jun 2011 #permalink

Another vote for Uromastyx

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 02 Jun 2011 #permalink

Definitely not a Phrynosoma - God knows I've looked at a lot of them lately and none of the species display this sort of armour.

I'll go with Uromastyx as well.

I'm going to have to go with Cordylus, though I have no idea what species it is. Did anyone see Primeval. They encounter a large (really large) pliosaur identified as a liopleurodon.

I'd go with Uromastyx as well.

Gee, I hope Cryptid dude [#13] is just being tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic. That Live Pterosaur blog he links to is quite... dreadful.

I'm pretty certain that is the tail of a Uromastyx

I do not have the relevant expertise in spiny lizards, but I will remark about how closely it resembles a glyptodont tail assembly.

By Tim Morris (not verified) on 02 Jun 2011 #permalink

Cryptid dude, read the link below. Paleontologist wouldn't believe that without good evidence. They're scientist, not some cult masquerading it's beliefs as science (a common belief). Also, these sightings don't resemble real pterosaurs. They look like pterosaurs depicted in old movies. They are described as the beasts of nightmares, and don't sound like real creatures.

Thanks to everyone who had a go at guessing. Quite a few of you got it right (several people guessed on facebook as well); it is indeed the dorsal surface of the tail of a mastigure, dabb or spiny-tailed agama (Uromastyx). I collected the specimen (discovered as a desiccated corpse) from the field (a locality in Morocco) a few years ago: the yellowish mottling on its back suggests that it is most likely a Saharan mastigure U. geyri.

All the mentions of Cordylus remind me that I want to cover it and its close relatives again some time - new phylogenetic work has resulted in an overhaul of their taxonomy.

According to the paper, Hauffiosaurus isn't a rhomaleosaurid, whatever else it is. It came out as a pliosauroid, and Benson et al suggest that it might be a basal pliosaurid based on a couple of synapomorphies.
They didn't formally identify a monophyletic Rhomaleosauridae, and various "traditional" rhomaleosaurus were scattered around the base of the Pliosauroidea, including some in a clade with Hauffiosaurus. However, there was a small clade of what I suppose you could call "core" rhomaleosaurs (R. zetlandicus, Meyerasaurus and Maresaurus) as sister group to pliosaurids, leptocleidians and Eurycleidus.
Ahh, the joys of Lias plesiosaurs!

By Mark Evans (not verified) on 03 Jun 2011 #permalink

Oops, thanks, Mark. I was lazy: I looked at their phylogeny, noticed that a few 'rhomaleosaurids of tradition' were in the same clade as Hauffiosaurus, and forgot to check whether it was Rhomaleosauridae in the strict sense. I had missed that the 'core' species of Rhomaleosaurus was elsewhere in the phylogeny. Incidentally, new work (Benson et al., in press) confirms that leptocleidids aren't pliosauroids, but 'rhomaleosaur-like' cryptoclidans.

IMHO, "confirms" is perhaps being optomistic, but there we go.

By Mark Evans (not verified) on 05 Jun 2011 #permalink

On the subject of Greg Paul's Prehistoric Times article, his skeletal reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus doesn't look overly inaccurate. Other than the shape of the head crest and the scaling, it looks fine to me. What else is wrong with it?

One of Paul's other opinions was that azhdarchids couldn't have wire-like hair on their necks (as seen in Mark Witton's depictions) because it needed to be as aerodynamic as possible during flight. I hate to say this, but it makes some sense. The modern ecological equivalents of Quetzalcoatlus - giant egrets and herons - don't have feathers sticking up in weird places (with perhaps the exception of seasonal breeding plumage); they do have to take off periodically. A cursorial lifestyle doesn't always mean aerial adaptations are lost.

Mark: yeah, point taken, but I think the character evidence (some of it discussed in in-press work) shows that a close grouping between leptocleidids and the cryptoclidid + polycotylid clade is rather better supported than the pliosauroid position. Note also that the supposed pliosauroid (rhomaelosaurid-like) characters of leptocleidids haven't fared well under reanalysis. More on this later.

Jason: Greg Paul's standing azhdarchid reconstruction is inaccurate because he has the humeri projecting laterally ('sprawling'), and because he has the neck too short. When these factors are corrected (both are discussed in the Witton & Naish 2008 PLoS paper), a big specimen like the Quetz. holotype increases in height to giraffish proportions. As for the shaggy integument Mark has put on his azhdarchids - as he'll admit, this is surely speculative, but I don't see that it's a problem. Firstly, many long-necked soaring birds do have stupid, 'shaggy' plumes and filaments (e.g., Straw-necked ibis, Black heron, Agami heron); these aren't just there in the breeding plumage, but present year-round. Secondly, such features aren't much of a problem for volant taxa that do a lot of terrestrial foraging (Greg himself notes - perhaps inappropriately - that azhdarchids could be imagined as gigantic turkeys), and the structures would allow 'enough streamlining' to not be a problem. Thirdly, as relatively slow soarers I'm not sure that azhdarchids would have been under strong pressure to be super-streamlined. They weren't pterosaurian falcons or noctules.

Diedrich paper on cave lions vs. cave bears mentions a cave lion trackway found in Germany, but the source it quotes (Koenigswald et al. 1995) is not in citations list and doesn't come up in online searches. Does anybody know what it's about? Any images, may be?

I've noticed a few cited references in the Diedrich paper that aren't in the bibliography. Anyway, I think it's...

Koenigswald, W. von, Walders, M. & Sander, M. 1995. Jungpleistozane tierfahrten aus der Emscher-Niederterrasse von BottropWelheim. Munchner Geowissenschaftliche Abdhandlungen 27, 5-50.

I should have mentioned, by the way, that Diedrich argues for replacement of the term 'cave lion' with 'steppe lion'. It's not a bad argument.

While we're talking about the papers discussed above, I only just noticed that Elgin and Frey (in the Barbosania paper) wrongly call the Romualdo Member the 'Romulado Member' a few times.

Thanks a lot!
He is making a good argument against "cave lion", but not a very good one for "steppe lion". The paper says a few times that the species was found in forests as well as in grasslands. Modern lions also live in grasslands (in South Africa and formerly in places like Azerbaijan). Why not "Boreal lion"?

I nearly got to help measure the Botrop trackways when I was in Bonn in '92-93. Unfortunately I slept in that day.

By John Scanlon, FCD (not verified) on 07 Jun 2011 #permalink