Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Caudal Basket of Pachycephalosauria

Homology and Architecture of the Caudal Basket of Pachycephalosauria (Dinosauria: Ornithischia): The First Occurrence of Myorhabdoi in Tetrapoda. 2012. C.M. Brown and A.P. Russell. PLoS ONE 7(1): e30212.

Abstract [edit]: Associated postcranial skeletons of pachycephalosaurids, most notably those of Stegoceras and Homalocephale, reveal enigmatic osseous structures not present in other tetrapod clades. The homology and functional significance of these structures have remained elusive as they were originally interpreted to be abdominal ribs or gastralia, and more recently have been interpreted as de novo structures in the tail.

Analysis of these structures in nearly all pachycephalosaurid skeletons has facilitated a complete description of their architecture, and the establishment of patterns consistent with those of myorhabdoid ossifications — ossifications of the myoseptal tendons associated with myomeres. The presence and structure of myorhabdoid ossifications are well established for teleost fish, but this marks their first recognition within Tetrapoda. These elements are both structurally and histologically distinct from the deep, paraxial ossified tendon bundles of other ornithischian clades, although they may have performed a similar function in the stiffening of the tail.

These myorhabdoi are not de novo structures, but are instead ossifications (and therefore more amenable to fossilization) of the normally unossified plesiomorphic caudal myosepta of vertebrates. The ubiquitous ossification of these structures in pachycephalosaurids (all specimens preserving the tail also exhibit myorhabdoid ossifications) suggests it is a likely synapomorphic condition for Pachycephalosauria.

Click to enlarge

Articulated caudal tendons of
Homalocephale in lateral view.