Braincase of the Temnospondyl Gerrothorax from the Middle Triassic of Germany

Witzmann, F., Schoch, R. R., Hilger, A. and N. Kardjilov. 2011. Braincase, palatoquadrate and ear region of the plagiosaurid Gerrothorax pulcherrimus from the Middle Triassic of Germany. Palaeontology (early online). doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2011.01116.x

Abstract - The complete neurocranium plus palatoquadrate of the plagiosaurid temnospondyl Gerrothorax pulcherrimus from the Middle Triassic of Germany is described for the first time, based on outer morphological observations and micro-CT scanning. The exoccipitals are strong elements with paroccipital processes and well-separated occipital condyles. Anterolaterally, the exoccipitals contact the otics, which are mediolaterally elongated and have massive lateral walls. The otics contact the basisphenoid, which shows well-developed sellar processes. Anteriorly, the basisphenoid is continuous with the sphenethmoid region. In its posterior portion, the sphenethmoid gives rise to robust, laterally directed laterosphenoid walls, a unique morphology among basal tetrapods. The palatoquadrate is extensively ossified. The quadrate portion overlaps the descending lamina of squamosal and ascending lamina of pterygoid anteriorly, almost contacting the epipterygoid laterally. The epipterygoid is a complex element and may be co-ossified with otics and laterosphenoid walls. It has a broad, sheet-like footplate and a horizontally aligned ascending process that contacts the laterosphenoid walls. The degree of ossification of the epipterygoid, however, is subject to individual variation obviously independent from ontogenetic changes. The stapes of Gerrothorax is a large, blade-like element that differs conspicuously from the plesiomorphic temnospondyl condition. It has a prominent anterolateral projection which has not been observed in other basal tetrapods. Morphology of neurocranium and palatoquadratum of Gerrothorax most closely resembles that of the Russian plagiosaurid Plagiosternum danilovi, although the elements are less ossified in the latter. The extensive endocranial ossification of Gerrothorax is consistent with the general high degree of ossification in the exo- and endoskeleton of this temnospondyl and supports the view that a strong endocranial ossification cannot be evaluated as a plesiomorphic character in basal tetrapods.

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