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Article: A new genus and species of sphenodontian from the Ghost Ranch Coelophysis quarry (Upper Triassic: Apachean), Rock Point Formation, New Mexico, USA

Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 51
Part: 4
Publication Date: July 2008
Page(s): 827 845
Author(s): Andrew B. Heckert, Spencer G. Lucas, Larry F. Rinehart and Adrian P. Hunt
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HECKERT, A. B., LUCAS, S. G., RINEHART, L. F., HUNT, A. P. 2008. A new genus and species of sphenodontian from the Ghost Ranch Coelophysis quarry (Upper Triassic: Apachean), Rock Point Formation, New Mexico, USA. Palaeontology51, 4, 827–845.

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We document here a new taxon of sphenodontian, Whitakersaurus bermani gen. et sp. nov., that is also the most complete sphenodontian fossil from the Upper Triassic Chinle Group in the south-western USA and the first Chinle sphenodontian represented by more than a single fragmentary dentulous element. The holotype was recovered during preparation of block C-8-82 from the famous Coelophysis (Whitaker) quarry at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, and is the most complete small vertebrate recovered from the quarry. Detailed lithostratigraphy and geologic mapping demonstrate that the Whitaker quarry is in the Rock Point Formation of the Chinle Group, so Whitakersaurus is the first sphenodontian reported from this unit. Records of the phytosaur Redondasaurus at the quarry and elsewhere in the Chinle Group demonstrate that the quarry, and thus Whitakersaurus, is of Apachean (late Norian–Rhaetian) age. The sphenodontian specimen consists of incomplete left and right dentaries, a partial left? maxilla?, and impressions of a probable palatal element, all of which preserve multiple teeth. Whitakersaurus is distinct from other sphenodontians in possessing a unique combination of the following features: marginal dentition pleurodont anteriorly and posteriorly acrodont; pronounced heterodonty in dentary, with as many as 15 smaller, peg-like teeth anteriorly and several larger, posterior teeth that are conical and striated; faint radial ornamentation of posterior tooth crowns; presence of c. 19 dentary teeth; and absence of a distinct flange on posterior teeth. Numerous other details distinguish it from both more primitive and more derived taxa. Whitakersaurus, therefore, helps to document further mosaic evolution and an extensive diversification event of sphenodontians during Triassic time. Although sphenodontian taxa are relatively easily recognized, widely distributed, and common small- or microvertebrate fossils, the long stratigraphic ranges of taxa known from multiple specimens hinders their utility as index fossils with which to correlate strata across Pangaea. KEYWORDS Upper Triassic • Sphenodontia • Chinle Group • New Mexico • Ghost Ranch
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