The imagery on this page was the basis for a paper entitled Cranial anatomy of the extinct amphisbaenian Rhineura hatcherii (Squamata, Amphisbaenia) based on high-resolution X-ray computed tomography by M. Kearney, J. A. Maisano and T. Rowe (Journal of Morphology 264:1-33, 2005). The abstract is as follows:
The fossilized skull of a small extinct amphisbaenian referable to Rhineura hatcherii Baur is described from high-resolution X-ray computed tomographic (HRXCT) imagery of a well-preserved mature specimen from the Brule Formation of Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Marked density contrast between bones and surrounding matrix and at bone-to-bone sutures enabled the digital disarticulation of individual skull elements (see Additional Imagery). These novel visualizations provide insight into the otherwise inaccessible three-dimensionally complex structure of the bones of the skull and their relationships to one another, and to the internal cavities and passageways that they enclose. This study corrects several previous misidentifications of elements in the rhineurid skull and sheds light on skull construction generally in shovel-headed amphisbaenians. The orbitosphenoids in R. hatcherii are paired and entirely enclosed within the braincase by the frontals; this is in contrast to the condition in many extant amphisbaenians, in which a large azygous orbitosphenoid occupies a topologically distinct area of the skull, closing the anterolateral braincase wall. Rhineura hatcherii retains a vestigial jugal and a partially fused squamosal, both of which are absent in many extant species. Sculpturing on the snout of R. hatcherii represents perforating canals conveying sensory innervation; thus, the face of R. hatcherii receives cutaneous innervation to an unprecedented degree. The HRXCT data (available at www.digimorph.org) corroborate and extend previous hypotheses that the mechanical organization of the head in Rhineura is organized to a large degree around its burrowing lifestyle.
DigiMorph Account of Rhineura hatcherii
Rhineura is a member of Amphisbaenia, a lineage (160 species) of mostly limbless burrowing squamates. The amphisbaenian skull classically has been difficult to study due to its small size (this specimen measures just 1.5 cm in length) and largely closed construction, but high-resolution industrial CT offers a solution to these problems.
There are four major amphisbaenian groups: Bipedidae, the only one to have forelimbs; Amphisbaenidae, the most diverse (149 species) and widespread lineage (see Anops kingii and Loveridgea ionidesii); Trogonophidae, whose members use an oscillating excavation pattern (see Diplometopon zarudnyi); and Rhineuridae, to which Rhineura belongs. Amphisbaenians occur in northern and sub-saharan Africa, southwest Asia, the Mediterranean, South America east of the Andes, the West Indies, western Mexico, Baja California, the southeasternmost United States, and Cuba. They are poorly represented in collections, and little is known of their life history, because of their burrowing lifestyle.
Rhineuridae includes a number of fossil forms (all restricted to western North America) but only one living species Rhineura floridana which occurs in central Florida and Georgia. The specimen featured here is referable to Rhineura hatcherii, known from the Middle to Upper Oligocene of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado. Rhineura hatcherii is very similar to R. floridana, but differs in part in having up to seven maxillary and dentary teeth and a sagittal crest.
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More information on the geology of the White River Formation and Badlands National Park from the National Park Service