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Re: [dinosaur] Ascendonanus, new arboreal varanopid synapsid from Permian of Germany; Microvaranops from South Africa (free pdf)

The paper is now free at the journal link:

Frederik Spindler, Ralf Werneburg, Joerg W. Schneider, Ludwig Luthardt, Volker Annacker & Ronny RÃÃler (2018)
First arboreal 'pelycosaurs' (Synapsida: Varanopidae) from the early Permian Chemnitz Fossil LagerstÃtte, SE Germany, with a review of varanopid phylogeny.
PalZ (advance online publication)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12542-018-0405-9

Free pdf:

On Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 8:41 AM, Ben Creisler <bcreisler@gmail.com> wrote:

Ben Creisler

A new paper:

Ascendonanus nestleri gen. et sp. nov.
Microvaranops parentis gen. et sp. nov.

Frederik Spindler, Ralf Werneburg, Joerg W. Schneider, Ludwig Luthardt, Volker Annacker & Ronny RÃÃler (2018)
First arboreal 'pelycosaurs' (Synapsida: Varanopidae) from the early Permian Chemnitz Fossil LagerstÃtte, SE Germany, with a review of varanopid phylogeny.
PalZ (advance online publication)

A new fossil amniote from the Fossil Forest of Chemnitz (Sakmarian-Artinskian transition, Germany) is described as Ascendonanus nestleri gen. et sp. nov., based on five articulated skeletons with integumentary preservation. The slender animals exhibit a generalistic, lizard-like morphology. However, their synapsid temporal fenestration, ventrally ridged centra and enlarged iliac blades indicate a pelycosaur-grade affiliation. Using a renewed data set for certain early amniotes with a similar typology found Ascendonanus to be a basal varanopid synapsid. This is the first evidence of a varanopid from Saxony and the third from Central Europe, as well as the smallest varanopid at all. Its greatly elongated trunk, enlarged autopodia and strongly curved unguals, along with taphonomical observations, imply an arboreal lifestyle in a dense forest habitat until the whole ecosystem was buried under volcanic deposits. Ascendonanus greatly increases the knowledge on rare basal varanopids; it also reveals a so far unexpected ecotype of early synapsids. Its integumentary structures present the first detailed and soft tissue skin preservation of any Paleozoic synapsid. Further systematic results suggest a varanodontine position for Mycterosaurus, the monophyly of South African varanopids including Anningia and the distinction of a skeletal aggregation previously assigned to Heleosaurus, now renamed as Microvaranops parentis gen. et sp. nov.



Now it can be told...


The "big reveal" that the Early Permian Ascendonanus is a synapsid (importantly, being known from fossils that preserve scales and ossicles, and even a complete body outline with skin) has, in fact, been on the web for months. ÂA number of sources had already "let the synapsid out of the bag" so to speak.


I contacted the lead author Frederik Spindler and respected his request in not posting more information or translations on the Dinosaur Mailing List until the official--and, as it turned out, the much delayed-- publication of the paper itself in the journal PalZ, originally scheduled for December 2017, shifted to March 2018. The postponed publication made a mess of any planned coordination between media presentations and embargoes on the name and scientific information. However, the name Ascendonanus became valid when the paper was finally published.

This article appeared in preprint form earlier in 2017, published in final form and in open access in December 2017:

Ludwig Luthard, Ronny RÃÃler & JÃrg W.Schneider (2017)

Tree-ring analysis elucidating palaeo-environmental effects captured in an in situ fossil forest â The last 80 years within an early Permian ecosystem.

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 487: 278-295

doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2017.09.011


in the reference list:

Spindler, F., Werneburg, R., Schneider, J.W., Luthardt, L., Annacker, V., RÃÃler, R., 2017.

First Arboreal âPelycosaursâ (Synapsida: Varanopidae) From the Early Permian Chemnitz Fossil LagerstÃtte, SE-Germany, With a Review of Varanopid Phylogeny.




A similar reference Âto the then Âunpublished PalZ article also appeared in a scientific paper in German before the end of 2017:

Ronny RÃÃler & Thorid Zierold (2017)

Die palÃontologische Sammlung des Museums fÃr Naturkunde Chemnitz â eine Zeitreise zu den Wurzeln der PalÃobotanik. [The paleontological collection of the Museum of Natural History Chemnitz -- a time journey to the roots of paleobotany]

VerÃffentlichungen des Museums fÃr Naturkunde Chemnitz 40: 5-30

The paper was posted on Research Gate in November 2017:



More notably, the text included a photo with the following caption in German on pg. 11:


Ascendonanus nestleri Spindler et al. 2017, erster baumkletternder Pelycosaurier (Synapsida: Varanopidae) aus dem Perm von Chemnitz, LÃnge 174 mm, TA1045.

[Ascendonanus nestleri Spindler et al. 2017, first tree-climbing pelycosaur (Synapsida: Varanopidae) from the Permian of Chemnitz, 174 mm long, TA1045]


Outside the technical literature, a local news story in German that appeared online on December 13, 2017 stated that the animal (only called Kletterzwerg "climbing dwarf" in the story, a German equivalent for Ascendonanus) Âwas not a reptile but a pelycosaurian related to the ancestry of mammals, with comments from the researchers involved. The headline read Â<<RÃtsel um Saurierfund gelÃst >> [Riddle Over Saurian Find Solved].

Original news story archived here:


Translating very freely from the text:

"He was not the biggest guy around, but he could climb really well. That's why paleontogists assume these members of the Pelycosauria, first discovered [in rocks] beneath Chemnitz and named 'climbing dwarf,' had no predators, although they belonged to the littler guys among prehistoric species at about Â40 centimeters long. The reptile-like mammal also may have had a relatively small brain and reacted to approaching danger more by instinct....

Pelycosaurs laid eggs-- yet they were not reptiles as might be supposed but rather the earliest ancestors of mammals..."


In the meantime, in anticipation of a December 2017 publication of the scientific description, the Chemnitz museum had publicized the formal scientific name Ascendonanus nestleri and, posted an artistic reconstruction on its the website in mid-November.


The synapsid identity of the little "Saurier" was withheld and its climbing ability was highlighted, along with its original nickname "Schnappi" [Snappy]. Frederik Spindler gave a public talk about the discovery on November 15, 2017 at the museum.


I posted this information on the Dinosaur Mailing List on November 14 and also included a link to a news story in German from a few months earlier that included a clear photo of the slab-counterslab specimen of an "Ascendonanus" specimen nicknamed "Helge," unique in preserving Âa nearly complete body-outline with scaly skin.


photo link:



Darren Naish (of Tetrapod Zoology blog fame) then shared the name and basic information, along with the photo, on Twitter, where it quickly spread around social media.

"Ascendonanus nestleri: a Permian fossil reptile with complete body outline, skin impressions and tree-climbing adaptations. I haven't seen the paper yet."


(In a then unrecognized coincidence, Darren had posted a Tetrapod Zoology blog a few months earlier with a wish list of "Fossils We Want to Find." Prominent in the list was:

"An early synapsid with extensive soft tissue preservation"

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/fossils-we-want-to-find/ )



Among the "restrained" reactions to "Ascendonanus" (without knowing yet it was a synapsid!) was this item from the Facebook page for the Past Time podcast:

November 14 at 10:00pm Â

"There are times when I (Adam) think I've experienced all the surprises that natural history can provide. I don't think there are any big shocks to come down the pipeline. I love being wrong about that.

A number of German news articles are reporting on ASCENDONANUS, a tiny, long-bodied reptile from the Permian of Chemnitz, Germany. At over 290 million years old, it is leaps and bounds older than nearly every reptile to appear on Past Time. Not only that, it may have adaptations for tree climbing. Not only THAT, the specimens include complete animals still completely covered in skin!

The early Permian is a time when you are lucky to find ANY reptile fossils. Complete skeletons are very rare. Complete specimens with preserved soft tissues and skin are unheard of. The scientific articles on these specimens have yet to appear, but I cannot WAIT to see what this thing is. No matter what, specimens like this are proof positive we must NEVER give up the search for the hidden wonders of natural history.

Seriously, this thing is AWESOME."


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