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[dinosaur] Origin of snakes + tooth attachment in mosasaurs and snakes

Ben Creisler

New papers:

Jeffrey W. Streicher & John J. Wiens (2017)
Phylogenomic analyses of more than 4000 nuclear loci resolve the origin of snakes among lizard families.
Biology Letters 2017 13 9 20170393
DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0393

Squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) are the most diverse group of terrestrial vertebrates, with more than 10 000 species. Despite considerable effort to resolve relationships among major squamates clades, some branches have remained difficult. Among the most vexing has been the placement of snakes among lizard families, with most studies yielding only weak support for the position of snakes. Furthermore, the placement of iguanian lizards has remained controversial. Here we used targeted sequence capture to obtain data from 4178 nuclear loci from ultraconserved elements from 32 squamate taxa (and five outgroups) including representatives of all major squamate groups. Using both concatenated and species-tree methods, we recover strong support for a sister relationship between iguanian and anguimorph lizards, with snakes strongly supported as the sister group of these two clades. These analyses strongly resolve the difficult placement of snakes within squamates and show overwhelming support for the contentious position of iguanians. More generally, we provide a strongly supported hypothesis of higher-level relationships in the most species-rich tetrapod clade using coalescent-based species-tree methods and approximately 100 times more loci than previous estimates.


Aaron R. H. LeBlanc, Denis O. Lamoureux & Michael W. Caldwell (2017)

Mosasaurs and snakes have a periodontal ligament: timing and extent of calcification, not tissue complexity, determines tooth attachment mode in reptiles.

Journald of Anatomy (advance online publication)

DOI: 10.1111/joa.12686



Squamates present a unique challenge to our understanding of dental evolution in amniotes because they are the only extant tooth-bearing group for which a ligamentous tooth attachment is considered to be absent. This has led to the assumption that mammals and crocodilians have convergently evolved a ligamentous tooth attachment, composed of root cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone, whereas squamates are thought to possess a single bone of attachment tissue that fuses teeth to the jaws. The identity and homology of tooth attachment tissues between squamates, crocodilians, and mammals have thus been a focal point of debate for decades. We provide a novel interpretation of the mineralized attachment tissues in two focal taxa in this debate, mosasaurids and snakes, and compare dental tissue histology with that of the extant crocodilian Caiman sclerops. We identify a periodontal ligament in these squamates that usually exists temporarily as a soft connective tissue anchoring each tooth to the alveolar bone. We also identify two instances where complete calcification of the periodontal ligament does not occur: in a durophagous mosasaur, and in the hinged teeth of fossil and modern snakes. We propose that the periodontal ligament rapidly calcifies in the majority of mosasaurids and snakes, ankylosing the tooth to the jaw. This gives the appearance of a single, bone-like tissue fusing the tooth to the jaw in ankylosed teeth, but is simply the end stage of dental tissue ontogeny in most snakes and mosasaurids.