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Tulerpeton: a Devonian reptile!

Thursday, February 23, 2017 20:08
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This latest nesting 
of the former basal tetrapod, Tulerpeton (Fig. 2), as a Devonian reptile in the large reptile tree (957 taxa) was both anticipated (Fig. 1) and welcome.

As you may recall…
Middle Devonian tetrapod trackways (preceding and coeval with the basal bony fish Cheirolepis and the lobe fins Eusthenopteron and Osteolepis) seemed anachronistic when first announced. But it’s all coming together now. And this new nesting adds precious time for evolution to produce the variety of amphibian-like reptiles present in the Viséan, still awaiting consensus confirmation of their reptilian status.

Figure 1. The nesting of Tulerpeton in the Latest Devonian, at the base of the Lepidosauromorpha. ” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ class=”size-full wp-image-26205″ src=”″ alt=”Figure 1. The nesting of Tulerpeton in the Latest Devonian, at the base of the Lepidosauromorpha.” width=”584″ height=”861″ />

Figure 1. The nesting of Tulerpeton in the Latest Devonian, at the base of the Lepidosauromorpha. This taxon was added to this graphic that was published online in August 2016.

According to Wikipedia
Tulerpeton curtum
(Lebedev 1984, Fammenian, Latest Devonian, 365 mya; Fig. 1) is “one of the first true tetrapods to have arisen.” It was distinct from less derived Acanthostega and Ichthyostega by a strengthened limb structure. It was also half to an eighth the size of these basal tetrapods. A fragmented skull is known for Tulerpeton, but the only fragment I’ve seen is a vague round premaxilla on small reconstructions. Both the manus and pes have 6 digits, all provided with clawed unguals.

FIgure 1. Tulerpeton compared to Eldeceeon. ” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ class=”size-full wp-image-26204″ src=”″ alt=”FIgure 1. Tulerpeton compared to Eldeceeon. ” width=”584″ height=”704″ srcset=” 584w, 124w, 249w, 588w” sizes=”(max-width: 584px) 100vw, 584px” />

FIgure 2. Tulerpeton compared to similarly-sized Eldeceeon. The loss of one digit in the manus and pes occurred between the Fammenian and Viséan.

Tulerpeton lived in shallow marine waters.
Little is known of this Eldeceeon-sized specimen, but the limbs and pectoral girdle are fairly well preserved. And these were enough to nest it with Eldeceeon (Fig. 1) out of 956 other candidate taxa in the LRT.

Coates and Ruta 2001 report:
“The most taxon-inclusive crown hypothesis incorporates the hexadactylous Late Devonian genus Tulerpeton as a basal stem amniote, thereby pegging the lissamphibian amniote divergence to a minimum date of around 360 Ma.” So there were early rumors. Only taxon exclusion prevented prior workers from recovering the reptile relationship earlier, no doubt due to the six fingers and toes on this putative basal tetrapod.

The loss of the sixth digit
occurred more than once, just as the later loss of a fifth digit occurred more than once. We should look for taxa with six fingers at the base of the Reptilomorpha and Seymouriamorpha — unless Tulerpeton developed a sixth finger on its own.

Phylogenetic analysis
originally placed Tulerpeton near the base of reptilomorphs, like Proterogyrinus and Eoherpeton. Later workers nested it as a more basal member of the Tetrapoda, between Acanthostega and Greererpeton.

those long, clawed fingers and toes, and the individual proportions of the metapodials and phalanges nested Tulerpeton with Eldeceeon (Fig. 1) at the base of the Lepidosauromorpha, very near the base of the Reptilia. This clade is derived from a sister to the basalmost reptile, the late-surviving (Westphalian) Gephyrostegus bohemicus.

This new nesting of Tulerpeton pushes the origin of the Reptilia
from the Early Carboniferous back to the Late Devonian. Unfortunately, traditional phylogenetic analyses have not yet recognized the amphibian-like reptiles that were (by way of phylogenetic bracketing) laying amniotic eggs, the hallmark of the Reptilia.

Major studies do not yet recognize the reptile status
of Gephyrostegus and Tulerpeton. Hopefully someone will add them and Eldeceeon to a future taxon list to confirm or refute the present findings.

Coates MI and Ruta M 2001 (2002). Fins to limbs: What the fossils say. Evolution & Development 4(5): 390–401.
Lebedev OA 1984. The first find of a Devonian tetrapod in USSR. Doklady Akad. Navk. SSSR. 278: 1407–1413.
Lebedev OA and Clack JA 1993. Upper Devonian tetrapods from Andreyeva, Tula Region, Russia. Paleontology36: 721-734.
Lebedev OA and Coates MI 1995. postcranial skeleton of the Devonian tetrapod Tulerpeton curtum Lebedev. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 114 (3): 307–348.



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