A broad survey of crocodyliform archosaurs and their outgroups was conducted to explore the evolutionary and morphological patterns of the orbitotemporal region, which is a highly apomorphic but poorly understood portion of the head. Data were gathered on the topological similarity and phylogenetic congruence of the epipterygoid, laterosphenoid, and temporal region as a whole, including relevant osteological correlates and such inferred soft tissues as the trigeminal nerves and jaw musculature. Despite the complete suturing of the palatocranial junction, the epipterygoid remained a consistent cranial element throughout crocodyliform evolution, only to be replaced by the topologically analogous, but developmentally neomorphic lateral bridge of the laterosphenoid during the early evolution of eusuchians. These changes led to a unique morphology of the region surrounding the exit of the trigeminal nerve. Mesoeucrocodylian taxa exhibit a diversity of epipterygoid morphologies including waisted (e.g., Araripesuchus), overlapping (e.g., Sarcosuchus), and isolated (e.g., Goniopholis, Leidyosuchus) forms. The isolated form, in which the epipterygoid is uncoupled from the pterygoid and does not to cover the cavum epiptericum laterally, represents a key transition to the extant condition of loss of the epipterygoid. Changes in the epipterygoid coincide with the migration of M. pseudotemporalis superficialis onto the laterosphenoid outside of the dorsotemporal fossa and the topological change in the intermuscular path of the maxillary nerve, both of which are apomorphies found in extant crocodylians. These data reflect a diverse and potentially homoplastic distribution of orbitotemporal morphologies among mesoeucrocodylians and indicate that the epipterygoid was only recently eliminated in crocodyliform evolution.
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Vol. 29 • No. 3