Alfred Romer

Alfred Sherwood Romer (December 28, 1894 – November 5, 1973) was an American paleontologist and biologist and a specialist in vertebrate evolution.

Alfred Romer

Alfred Sherwood Romer
Alfred Romer in 1965
Alfred Sherwood Romer[1]

December 28, 1894
White Plains, New York
DiedNovember 5, 1973 (age 78)
NationalityUnited States
Alma mater
Scientific career
InstitutionsMuseum of Comparative Zoology
ThesisThe Locomotor Apparatus of Certain Primitive and Mammal-like Reptiles (1922)
Doctoral advisorWilliam King Gregory


Alfred Romer was born in White Plains, New York, the son of Harry Houston Romer and his wife, Evalyn Sherwood. He was educated at White Plains High School.[2]

He studied at Amherst College achieving a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in biology and Columbia University pursuing with a M.Sc in Biology and graduating with a doctorate in zoology in 1921. Romer joined the department of geology and paleontology at the University of Chicago as an associate professor in 1923. He was an active researcher and teacher. His collecting program added important Paleozoic specimens to the Walker Museum of Paleontology. In 1934 he was appointed professor of biology at Harvard University. In 1946, he also became director of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). In 1954 Romer was awarded the Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[3] He was awarded the Academy's Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal in 1956.[4]

Evolutionary research

Romer was very keen in investigating vertebrate evolution. Comparing facts from paleontology, comparative anatomy, and embryology, he taught the basic structural and functional changes that happened during the evolution of fishes to primitive terrestrial vertebrates and from these to all other tetrapods. He always emphasized the evolutionary significance of the relationship between the form and function of animals and the environment.

Through his textbook Vertebrate Paleontology Romer laid the foundation for the traditional classification of vertebrates. He drew together the (then) widely scattered taxonomy of the different vertebrate groups and combined them in a simplified scheme, emphasizing orderliness and overview. Based on his research of early amphibians, he reorganised the labyrinthodontians.[5] Romer's classification was followed by many subsequent authors, notably Robert L. Carroll, and is still in use.

Kronosaurus queenslandicus skeleton

Kronosaurus queenslandicus
K. queenslandicus at Harvard University which may have been reconstructed with too many vertebrae

Prior to Romer's tenure as MCZ director, the Museum sent an expedition to Australia in 1931–1932 to gather specimens and study live animals. Yet then-graduate student William E. Schevill, the team's fossil enthusiast, remained in Australia beyond the venture and, in the winter of 1932, was told by the rancher R.W.H. Thomas of rocks with something "odd" poking out of them on his property near Hughenden.[6][7][8][9] The rocks were limestone nodules containing the most complete skeleton of a Kronosaurus ever discovered.[6][10][11] After dynamiting the nodules out of the ground (and into smaller pieces weighing approximately four tons[12][13]), William Schevill had the fossils shipped back to Harvard for examination and preparation. The skull—which matched the holotype jaw fragment of K. queenslandicus—was prepared right away, but time and budget constraints put off restoration of the nearly complete skeleton - most of the bones of which remained unexcavated within the limestone blocks - for 20 years.[10] This interim ended when they came to the attention of Godfrey Lowell Cabot - Boston industrialist, philanthropist, and founder of the Cabot Corporation - "who was then in his nineties had been interested in sea serpents since childhood."[8]

Kronosaurus scale
K. queenslandicus scale diagram, showing the size of the restored Harvard skeleton along with a more accurate estimate

Having formerly question Dr. Romer about the existence and reports of sea serpents and it thus occurred to Romer to tell Mr. Cabot about the skeleton in the museum closet. Godfrey Cabot thus asked how much a restoration would cost and "Romer, pulling a figure out of the musty air, replied, 'Oh, about $10,000.'" Romer may not have been serious but the philanthropist clearly was because the check for said sum came shortly thereafter.[8][14] Two years - and more than $10,000 - later, following the careful labor of the museum preparators, the restored and mounted skeleton was displayed at Harvard in 1959.[6][10] However, Dr. Romer and MCZ preparator Arnold Lewis confirmed that same year in the institution's journal Breviora that "erosion had destroyed a fair fraction of this once complete and articulated that approximately a third of the specimen as exhibited is plaster restoration."[15] Furthermore, the original (real) bones are also layered in plaster; a fact that, while keeping the fossils safe, makes it difficult for paleontologists to study it - an issue which factors into the controversial question of the true size of the Kronosaurus queenslandicus.[14]

Size issues

Body-length estimates, largely based on the 1959 Harvard reconstruction, had previously put the total length of Kronosaurus at 12.8 metres (42 ft).[16] However, more recent studies, comparing fossil specimens of Kronosaurus to other pliosaurs suggests that the Harvard reconstruction may have included too many vertebrae, exaggerating the previous estimate, with the true length probably only 9 to 10.5 metres (30 to 34 ft).[17][18]


A genus of early captorhinids is named Romeria after Romer, as is Romeriida (the name for a clade that contains the diapsids and their closest relatives). In July 2007 a species of non-dinosaurian dinosauromorph was named Dromomeron romeri, "the first part meaning 'running femur,' the latter in honor of paleontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer, a key figure in evolution research". The finding of these fossils was hailed as a breakthrough proving dinosaurs and other dinosauromorphs "lived together for as long as 15 million to 20 million years."[19][20] The early Pennsylvanian (Late Carboniferous) Romeriscus was also named after Romer. It was initially described as the oldest known amniote,[21] but this is because limnoscelids were, at that time, considered amniotes by some authors. A subsequent study showed that the fossil lacks diagnostic characters and can only be assigned to Tetrapoda.[22]

Romer was the first to recognise the gap in the fossil record between the tetrapods of the Devonian and the later Carboniferous period, a gap that has borne the name Romer's gap since 1995.[23]


  • Romer, A.S. 1933. Vertebrate Paleontology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. (2nd ed. 1945; 3rd ed. 1966)
  • Romer, A.S. 1933. Man and the Vertebrates. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. (2nd ed. 1937; 3rd ed. 1941; 4th ed., retitled The Vertebrate Story, 1949)
  • Romer, A.S. 1949. The Vertebrate Body. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia. (2nd ed. 1955; 3rd ed. 1962; 4th ed. 1970)
  • Romer, A.S. 1949. The Vertebrate Story. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. (4th ed. of Man and the Vertebrates)
  • Romer, A.S. 1956. Osteology of the Reptiles. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Romer, A.S. 1968. Notes and Comments on Vertebrate Paleontology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Romer, A.S. & T.S. Parsons. 1977. The Vertebrate Body. 5th ed. Saunders, Philadelphia. (6th ed. 1985)


  1. ^ Westoll, T. S.; Parrington, F. R. (1975). "Alfred Sherwood Romer 28 December 1894 -- 5 November 1973". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 21: 496–516. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1975.0016.
  2. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  3. ^ "Mary Clark Thompson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  4. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on August 1, 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  5. ^ "Romer, Alfred Sherwood." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved May 25, 2011 from
  6. ^ a b c Mather, Patricia, with Agnew, N.H. et al. The History of the Queensland Museum, 1862-1986 Retrieved from
  7. ^ News-Press from Fort Myers, Florida on January 26, 1989 · Page 9 -
  8. ^ a b c About the Exhibits by Elizabeth Hall and Max Hall (Museum of Comparative Zoology "Agazziz Museum" Havard University. Third Edition, Copywrite 1964, 1975, 1985, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
  9. ^ Bailey, Joyce R. W. H. Thomas : a man of distinction. Joyce Bailey, [Kangaloon, N.S.W, 2005. -
  10. ^ a b c Meyers, Troy. Kronosaurus Chronicles. Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Issue 3, 2005. Retrieved from
  11. ^ Zoology Museum to Exhibit Largest Sea-Reptile Fossil -
  12. ^ Rolfe, WD Ian. "William Edward Schevill: palaeontologist, librarian, cetacean biologist." Archives of Natural History 39.1 (2012): 162-164. -
  13. ^ 1930s: The One That Got Away -
  14. ^ a b The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Hardcover) – October 26, 2004
  15. ^ Romer, A. S. and A. D. Lewis. 1959. A mounted skeleton of the giant plesiosaur Kronosaurus. Breviora 112:1-15.
  16. ^ Romer AS, Lewis AD. 1959. A mounted skeleton of the giant plesiosaur Kronosaurus. Breviora 112: 1-15.
  17. ^ Kear BP. 2003. Cretaceous marine reptiles of Australia: a review of taxonomy and distribution. Cretaceous Research 24: 277–303.
  18. ^ McHenry, Colin R. "Devourer of Gods: The Palaeoecology of the Cretaceous Pliosaur Kronosaurus Queenslandicus." The University of Newcastle Australia, Apr. 2009. Web.
  19. ^ Andrew Herrmann (2007-07-20). "Grad student finds 'pre-dinosaur'". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2008-10-13.
  20. ^ Irmis, R. B.; Nesbitt, S. J.; Padian, K.; Smith, N. D.; Turner, A. H.; Woody, D.; Downs, A. (2007). "A Late Triassic Dinosauromorph Assemblage from New Mexico and the Rise of Dinosaurs". Science. 317 (5836): 358–361. doi:10.1126/science.1143325. PMID 17641198.
  21. ^ Baird D, Carroll R (1967). "Romeriscus, the oldest known reptile". Science. 157 (3784): 56–59. doi:10.1126/science.157.3784.56. JSTOR 1721645.
  22. ^ Reisz R, Laurin M (1992). "A reassessment of the Pennsylvanian tetrapod Romeriscus". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 12 (4): 524–527. doi:10.1080/02724634.1992.10011478.
  23. ^ Ward, P.; Labandeira, C.; Laurin, M.; Berner, R. A. (2006). "Confirmation of Romer's Gap as a low oxygen interval constraining the timing of initial arthropod and vertebrate terrestrialization". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (45): 16818–22. doi:10.1073/pnas.0607824103. PMC 1636538. PMID 17065318.

External links


Dinodontosaurus (meaning "terrible-toothed lizard") is a genus of dicynodont therapsid. It was one of the largest herbivores of the Triassic (about 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) long and weighing a few hundred pounds) and had a beak corneum. It lived in the Middle Triassic but disappeared in the Upper Triassic.


Edopoidea is a clade of primitive temnospondyl amphibians including the genus Edops and the family Cochleosauridae. Edopoids are known from the Late Carboniferous and Early Permian of North America and Europe, and the Late Permian of Africa. They are among the most basal temnospondyls, and possess a number of primitive features that were lost in later members of the group.


Edops ('glutton face') is an extinct genus of temnospondyl. Unlike more advanced kinds they exhibited an archaic pattern of palatal bones, and still possessed various additional bones at the back of the skull. Edopoids also had particularly big premaxillae (the bones that form the tip of the snout) and proportionally small external nostrils. Within the clade, the most basal member seems to be Edops from the Early Permian Archer City Formation of the USA, a broad-skulled animal with large palatal teeth. It was named for its large jaws (from Latin edo "glutton" and Greek ops "face, look").

It was fairly big, at 2 metres (6.6 ft) in length. Fragmentary remains from the Viséan of Scotland appear to come from Edops or a close relative and hence predate the type Edops material of the Permian.


Eothyris is an extinct genus of synapsids in the family Eothyrididae from the Permian. It was an insectivorous animal, closely related to Oedaleops. Only the skull of Eothyris, first described in 1937, is known. It had a 6-centimetre-long (2.4-inch) skull, and its total estimated length is 30 centimetres (12 inches).


Greererpeton burkemorani ("crawler from Greer, West Virginia") is an extinct genus of colosteid stem-tetrapods from the Early Carboniferous period (late Viséan) of North America. Greererpeton was first described by famed vertebrate paleontologist Alfred S. Romer in 1969. The skull was redescribed by Timothy R. Smithson in 1982, while postcranial remains were redescribed by Stephen J. Godfrey in 1989.

Greererpeton were probably aquatic, with an elongated body adapted for swimming. Adults were similar in size to modern Asian giant salamaders (Andrias), which could grow up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in total length. The body was elongated, with about 40 vertebrae, while the flattened skull reached about 18 centimetres (7.1 in) long in adult specimens. The most complete adult specimen only preserved 12 tail vertebrae, only about a third the length of the body as in Andrias. However, smaller specimens have been found preserving over 30 vertebrae, so it is not inconceivable that a complete tail was approximately as long as the body. The limbs were short, though not vestigial; the fingers were still well-developed. Greererpeton were carnivores which probably lived in rivers and swamps.


Gualosuchus is an extinct genus of proterochampsian archosauriform from the Middle Triassic Chañares Formation of Argentina. The type and only species is Gualosuchus reigi, named by paleontologist Alfred Romer in 1971.


Lagerpeton is a genus of basal dinosauromorph. First described by A. S. Romer in 1971, it includes only the species L. chanarensis. This species is incompletely known, with fossil specimens accounting for the pelvic girdle, hindlimbs and posterior presacral, sacral and anterior caudal vertebrae.


Lagosuchus is a genus of small archosaur from the middle Triassic period. It is generally thought to be closely related to dinosaurs, as a member of the Dinosauromorpha. Its fossils were found in the Chañares Formation of Argentina, the dating of which is uncertain; some sources date it to the Middle Triassic whilst others date it to the earliest Carnian.


Lewisuchus is a genus of archosaur that lived during the Middle Triassic (Ladinian); it was a silesaurid dinosauriform, a member of the group of reptiles which led to the dinosaurs. Lewisuchus was about 1 metre (3.3 ft) long. Fossils have been found in the Chañares Formation of Argentina. It exhibited osteoderms along its back.


Lupeosaurus is an extinct genus of pelycosaurian synapsids, assigned to the family Edaphosauridae.


Luperosuchus (meaning "vexing" or "difficult crocodile") is an extinct genus of large "rauisuchian" pseudosuchian. It lived between the Ladinian stage of the late Middle Triassic to the earliest Carnian of the Late Triassic, and is known from the Chañares Formation of Argentina. It contains only a single type species, Luperosuchus fractus.


Nitosaurus is an extinct genus of non-mammalian synapsids.


Pareidae is a small family of snakes found in south and southeast Asia. It encompasses 23 species in four genera divided into two subfamilies.Pareidae was once considered a subfamily of Colubridae (called "Pareatinae"), but it is now known that pareids are not closely related to colubrids. The correct spelling is Pareidae, not Pareatidae.Many pareids are snail-eating snakes that have asymmetrical lower jaws, allowing them to pry the soft bodies of snails from their spiral shells. One species, Pareas iwasakii, has an average of 17.5 teeth in its left mandible and 25 teeth in its right mandible. Other species lacking asymmetrical jaws, such as Aplopeltura boa and Asthenodipsas malaccanus, feed instead on slugs or lizards. Predation by pareids on dextral (clockwise-coiled or "right handed") snails is thought to favor the evolution of sinistral (counter-clockwise or "left handed") snails in southeast Asia, where 12% of snail species are sinistral (as opposed to 5% worldwide).


Probelesodon is an extinct genus of chiniquodontid cynodonts. Fossils have been found from Argentina and Brazil of Triassic age.


Proterogyrinus was an extinct genus of early tetrapods from the order Embolomeri. Fossils have been found in Scotland, UK, and West Virginia, United States and date back to the Serpukhovian (mid-Carboniferous period) from about 331-323 million years ago. The genus was originally named by renowned vertebrate paleontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer in 1970. A comprehensive redescription was later published by Canadian paleontologist Robert Holmes in 1984. The generic name "Proterogyrinus" is Greek for "earlier wanderer" or "earlier tadpole". This name was chosen by Romer in keeping with a trend of naming long-bodied early tetrapods (such as Eogyrinus and Crassigyrinus) with the suffix "-gyrinus".Romer hesitated from designating Proterogyrinus as a true embolomere, because its intercentra (the forward portion of each vertebra) were smaller than its pleurocentra (the rear portion). He used the group Anthracosauria to encompass embolomeres and their close relatives such as Proterogyrinus. However, other sources prefer a wider definition of Embolomeri similar in usage to Romer's Anthracosauria, thus counting Proterogyrinus as an embolomere.


Romeriida is a clade of reptiles that consists of diapsids and the extinct protorothyridid genus Paleothyris, if not the entire family Protorothyrididae. It is phylogenetically defined by Laurin & Reisz (1995) as the last common ancestor of Paleothyris and diapsids, and all its descendants. It is named after Alfred Romer, a prominent vertebrate paleontologist of the twentieth century.Protorothyridids were once placed in the family Romeriidae along with the captorhinid Romeria. Because Romeria is now considered to be a captorhinid, and Captorhinidae is placed outside Romeriida, the genus is excluded from the clade. Protorothyridids were once the collective term for several romeriid genera of uncertain classification. However, more recent studies have proposed that Protorothyrididae is a paraphyletic taxon. Therefore, it is possible that many protorothyridids do not lie within the clade Romeriida.

Several synapomorphies characterize the romeriids. These include the separation of the tabular bone from the opisthotic bone, ventrally keeled anterior pleurocentra, long and slender carpi and tarsi, and overlapping metapodials.Below is a cladogram showing the placement of Romeriida within Amniota, modified from Hill, 2005:

Cladogram after Müller & Reisz, 2006:

Polyphyletic Protorothyrididae


The Sarcopterygii () or lobe-finned fish (from Greek σάρξ sarx, flesh, and πτέρυξ pteryx, fin)—sometimes considered synonymous with Crossopterygii ("fringe-finned fish", from Greek κροσσός krossos, fringe)—constitute a clade (traditionally a class or subclass) of the bony fish, though a strict cladistic view includes the terrestrial vertebrates.

The living sarcopterygians include two species of coelacanths and six species of lungfish.


Stenotosaurus is an extinct genus of capitosaurian temnospondyl within the family Mastodonsauridae. It is known from three species, all of which lived during the Anisian stage of the Middle Triassic. Fossils have been found in England and Germany.


Stereophallodon is an extinct genus of non-mammalian synapsids.

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