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New - Eggs and viviparity of the choristoderan Hyphalosaurus

Hou L.-H., Li P.-P., Ksepka D.T., Gao K.-Q. & Norell M.A. In press. Implications of flexible-shelled eggs in a Cretaceous choristoderan reptile. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277(1685):1235-1239.

Flexible, or soft-shelled, eggs are almost unknown in the fossil record, leaving large gaps in our knowledge of the reproductive biology of many tetrapod clades. Here, we report two flexible-shelled eggs of the hyphalosaurid choristodere Hyphalosaurus baitaigouensis from the Early Cretaceous of China, one containing an embryo and the second associated with a neonate. Choristoderes are an enigmatic group of aquatic reptiles that survived the K–T extinction but died out in the Miocene. Hyphalosaurids, a specialized clade of Choristodera, resemble miniature plesiosaurs and are considered to be primarily aquatic in habit. Scanning electron microscopy of samples from the eggs reveals a thin, non-columnar external mineralized layer characterized by rounded nodes and tentatively identified poorly structured irregular pores, with an underlying amorphous layer presumably representing decomposed protein fibrils. While the relationships of Choristodera remain controversial, eggshell microstructure more closely resembles that of Lepidosauromorpha (the lineage including lizards) as opposed to that of Archosauromorpha (the lineage including birds and crocodiles).


Ji Q., Wu X.-C. & Cheng Y.-N. 2010. Cretaceous choristoderan reptiles gave birth to live young. Naturwissenschaften 97(4): 423-428.

Viviparity (giving birth to live young) in fossil reptiles has been known only in a few marine groups: ichthyosaurs, pachypleurosaurs, and mosasaurs. Here, we report a pregnant specimen of the Early Cretaceous Hyphalosaurus baitaigouensis, a species of Choristodera, a diapsid group known from unequivocal fossil remains from the Middle Jurassic to the early Miocene (about 165 to 20 million years ago). This specimen provides the first evidence of viviparity in choristoderan reptiles and is also the sole record of viviparity in fossil reptiles which lived in freshwater ecosystems. This exquisitely preserved specimen contains up to 18 embryos arranged in pairs. Size comparison with small free-living individuals and the straight posture of the posterior-most pair suggest that those embryos were at term and had probably reached parturition. The posterior-most embryo on the left side has the head positioned toward the rear, contrary to normal position, suggesting a complication that may have contributed to the mother’s death. Viviparity would certainly have freed species of Hyphalosaurus from the need to return to land to deposit eggs; taking this advantage, they would have avoided intense competition with contemporaneous terrestrial carnivores such as dinosaurs.