Cetiosaurus, Pelorosaurus, Streptospondylus or maybe Iguanodon(?!) in bizarre Fused Chevrons scandal!
March 9, 2009
We have sometimes neglected tails on SV-POW!, in favour of the more obviously charismatic charms of presacral vertebrae, but every now and then you come across a caudal vertebra so bizarre that it just cries out to be blogged.
One such is this specimen, which may or may not be BMNH R 2144:
The reason I’m not sure whether this is BMNH R2144 is that I noticed this at the very last minute while visiting the NHM collections to see a different specimen, and just had time to take a couple of quick photos before kicking-out time. The label on the side of the vertebra has the unexplained number 2144 written on it, so I am guessing this is the specimen number, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it.
(By the way, both these photographs are copyright the NHM.)
The interesting thing about this vertebra is of course that that the chevrons are co-ossified with the centrum — an extremely rare condition in sauropods, in fact unique as far as I know. As we’ve shown here and here, among other places, the chevrons are usually separate bones from the vertebrae.
This vertebra caught my eye not only because it’s, well, weird, but also because I’d seen it a couple of times in published figures. It’s in Mantell’s (1850) description of Pelorosaurus, where it appears as figure 11 in plate XXIII, and is considered to belong to Pelorosaurus; and also in Owen (1859: plate V: figs. 3-4). Owen seems pretty confused about the identity of this element, and in this paper alone assigns it to Streptospondylus (p. 22), Iguanodon(!) (p. 25) and implicitly Cetiosaurus (p. 34). So what is it? Well, its provenance is vague in the extreme, so given that it’s not associated with any more diagnostic material, about the best we can say with any honesty is that it’s Sauropoda incertae sedis.
Let’s take a look at those old figures:
If you’re like me, your first thought was that Owen’s figures are simply mirror images of Mantell’s. I checked this out by Photoshopping the two sets of figures, flipping them horizontally, scaling and rotating as necessary, and found to my mild surprise that Owen’s figures are in fact redrawn, despite the startling resemblance they bear to Mantell’s. As it happens, the same is true with the Owen 1859 plate that is the humerus of Pelorosaurus figured by Mantell 1850, and in that case Owen’s figure is rather better than Mantell’s, so let’s give a bit of credit to Owen here. Most embarrassing for Mantell (not that he cares, having been dead for 157 years) is that Owen’s flipped images seem to be correct (at least, as best I can judge from the photographs I took) — looks like Mantell or his illustrator badgered this up.
So what is going on with these co-ossified chevrons? As is so often the case, we just don’t know. Some possibilities: this might be a pathology of an individual, caused either by injury or infection; it might be a natural ontogenetic character in very old individuals; or it might by a taxonomically significant character of a taxon we’ve not yet found — or one that we have found, but don’t yet recognise as being the same thing. It’s perfectly possible that this is a chevron of Xenoposeidon, for example, but until someone finds a nice complete specimen we’ll never know.
Not much is known about skeleton fusion in sauropods, and most of what’s in the literature is anecdote. That is set to change, I am pleased to say, as Matt is putting together a paper with his colleague Elizabeth Rega that will survey and interpret the various fusions known in sauropod vertebrae. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to say about this vertebra.
- Brusatte, Stephen L., Roger B. J. Benson, and Stephen Hutt. 2008. The osteology of Neovenator salerii (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Wealden Group (Barremian) of the Isle of Wight. Monograph of the Palaeontographical Society 162 (631): 1-166.
- Calvo, Jorge O., Juan D. Porfiri, Claudio Veralli, Fernando Novas and Federico Poblete. 2004. Phylogenetic status of Megaraptor namunhuaiquii Novas based on a new specimen from Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina. Ameghiniana 41 (4): 565-575.
- Mantell, Gideon Algernon. 1850. On the Pelorosaurus: an undescribed gigantic terrestrial reptile, whose remains are associated with those of the Iguanodon and other saurians in the strata of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 140: 379-390.
- Owen, R. 1859a. Monograph on the fossil Reptilia of the Wealden and Purbeck formations. Supplement no. II (pages 20-44 and plates V-XII): Crocodilia (Streptospondylus, &c.) [Wealden]. Palaeontographical Society, London.
Thanks to Mickey Mortimer for pointing out that this kind of centrum-chevron fusion is known in the theropod Megaraptor. Here is the relevant figure from Calvo et al.’s (2004) revision of that genus:
The strange thing is this comment in the text (p. 569): “Two articulated caudal vertebrae are preserved (figure 5), slightly laterally compressed. Their centra and the neural arches are firmly co-ossified, as well as their respective haemal arches [i.e. chevrons]. This fusion, not infrequent among dinosaurs, may be pathological.” Not infrequent? Is this going on all over the place and I’ve just never noticed it? Anyone have any more examples?
Here is that pair of fused Neovenator caudals with a co-ossified chevron, which Darren mentions in the comments below.