- The Paleontological Society
The postcranial skeleton of the Lower Permian temnospondyl Trimerorhachis insignis Cope, 1878 is described and figured in detail. Postcranial adaptations for an aquatic existence in T. insignis include the extensive ventral expansion of the interclavicle and clavicles and poorly ossified ends of the endochondral bones. The endochondral postcranial skeleton of T. insignis is paedomorphic through the process of neoteny, retaining an osteologically immature condition throughout morphogenesis. The endochondral postcranial elements display progressive morphological changes that do not stabilize in larger specimens, indicating indeterminate growth, with a correlation between size and degree of ossification. Some postcranial characteristics are present only in later morphogenetic stages of T. insignis.
Within the Temnospondyli, the postcranial skeleton of T. insignis is most similar to that of other members of the Dvinosauria. The morphology of the postcranial skeleton of T. insignis is consistent with a phylogenetic position more derived than the basal temnospondyls Balanerpeton woodi and Dendrerpeton acadianum, but less derived than the Euskelia plus Stereospondylomorpha. A sister-taxon relationship between the Dvinosauria and brachyopoids is not supported by postcranial characteristics of T. insignis.
Characteristics that develop last in morphogenesis in temnospondyls, and are consequently only present in well-ossified, morphogenetically mature temnospondyls, are absent in T. insignis due to paedomorphosis. Otherwise, the postcranial skeletons of T. insignis and other aquatic temnospondyls are similar to that of terrestrial temnospondyls, supporting the hypothesis that aquatic temnospondyls had terrestrial ancestors and are thus secondarily aquatic.