Description of Tanytrachelos ahynis and its implications for the phylogeny of Protorosauria
Tanytrachelos ahynis, a small (21 cm long) aquatic protorosaur from the Upper Triassic sediments in the Cow Branch Formation of the Newark Supergroup, has been briefly described in 1979 by P. E. Olsen. A growing addition of nearly 200 specimens and the availability of CT imaging allow for an extensively detailed redescription. This redescription fills in missing data in cladistic analyses of Protorosauria, allowing for protorosaur monophyly to be retested with a more robust data set.
Two hundred and ninety specimens and two CT scans of specimens were examined, with seventy linear measurements, four angular measurements, and five derived variables comprising the quantitative observations. These qualitative and quantitative observations then provided data for Tanytrachelos in two cladistic analyses of Protorosauria. The first analysis included the outgroup Petrolacosaurus, twenty-one protorosaurs, and nine other archosauromorphs. The second analysis included the twenty taxa within this sample that had a data completeness of 50% or higher.
Diagnostic qualities of Tanytrachelos include large orbits (11% - 13% the lateral area of the skull), a fused axis and atlas, a tail that spans half the vertebral length, and paired curved heterotopic bones in some specimens (a sign of sexual dimorphism). The disparity of size between the hind and fore limbs, as well as traces of soft tissue, suggest that Tanytrachelos propelled through the water with its back legs. This taxon is similar to Gwyneddosaurus, found in the Lockatong Formation (Newark Supergroup) in Montgomery County, PA, but should maintain its generic name due to lack of diagnostic qualities for Gwyneddosaurus.
With the new observations of Tanytrachelos included, each of the two cladistic analyses yielded a single most parsimonious tree presenting a paraphyletic Protorosauria. Both results placed Prolacerta within the confines of Protorosauria, in contrast with the previous suggestion by three publications that Prolacerta was not a true protorosaur. The analysis of all taxa presented Boreopricea as the most basal protorosaur, while the analysis of the twenty most complete taxa presented Protorosaurus as most primitive. Neither tree fully agrees with any previously published data, partly due to differences in taxa sampling between studies.