February 13, 2015
According to Rare Historical Photos from the 1860s to the 1960s, this is the iceberg that sank the Titanic:
Clearly this was no iceberg, but a gigantic Apatosaurus vertebra, most of it hidden under water. Here is an artist’s impression:
They get everywhere, don’t they?
February 8, 2015
Here, for example, is the basal archosauriform Vancleavea. (Thanks to Mickey Mortimer, whose a comment on an earlier post put us onto this, and various other candidate epipohysis-bearers which we’ll see below.)
Here is a pair of Vancleavea cervical vertebrae:
No ambiguity here: the epipophysis is even labelled.
But we can find epipophyses even outside Archosauriformes. Here, for example, is the the rhynchosaur Mesosuchus:
Check out the rightmost vertebra (C7), clicking through for the full resolution if necessary. There is a definite eminence above the postzyg, separated from it by a distinct groove. Unless the drawing is wildly misleading, that is a definite epipophysis, right there.
But even more basal archosauromorphs have epipophyses. Check out Teraterpeton, described by Hans-Dieter Sues in 2003:
This is another one where the epipophysis is labelled (though not recognised as such — it’s just designated an “accessory process”).
Can we go yet more basal? Yes we can! Here are cervicals 2 and 3 of the trilophosaur Trilophosaurus (in an image that I rearranged and rescaled from the published original for clarity):
The parts of this image to focus on (and you can click through for a much better resolution) are the postzyg at top right of the left-lateral view, which has a distinct groove separating the zygapophyseal facet below from the epipohysis above; and the posterior view, which also shows clear separation on both sides between these two structures.
While we’re playing with trilophosaurs here’s here’s another one (probably), Spinosuchus:
Again, the groove separating postzygapophyseal facet from epipophysis (at top right in the image) is clear.
But there’s more! Even the protorosaurs, pretty much the most basal of all archosauromorphs, have convincing epipophyses. Here are two that I found in Dave Peters’ post from two years ago, which I only discovered recently. [Here I must insert the obligatory disclaimer: while Dave Peters is a fine artist and has put together a really useful website, his ideas about pterosaur origins are, to put it mildly, extremely heterodox, and nothing that he says about phylogeny on that site should be taken as gospel. See Darren’s write-up on Tet Zoo for more details.]
Dave shows some probable, but not super-convincing epipophyses in the protorosaur Macrocnemus (shaded purple here) …
… and some much more convincing epipophyses in the better known and more spectacular protorosaur Tanystropheus:
Frustratingly, Dave doesn’t attribute these images, so I don’t know where they’re originally from (unless they’re his own artwork). Can anyone enlighten me? There’s a nice illustration in figure 57 of Nosotti’s (2007) epic Tanystropheus monograph that is at least highly suggestive of epipophyses:
But it’s not as good as the one Peters used, as that one shows a distinct notch between postzyg and epipophysis, so I’d like to track that down if I can.
With this, I believe I am done on cataloguing and illustrating epipophyses, unless something dramatic turns up. (For example, this commenter thinks that nothosaurs have epipophyses, but I’ve not been able to verify that.) Here’s what we’ve found — noting that we’ve illustrated epipophyses on every taxon on this tree except Crocodylia:
So it seems that epipophyses may well be primitive at least for Archosauromorpha — which implies that they were secondarily lost somewhere on the line to modern crocs.
With this lengthy multi-part digression complete, hopefully, we’ll get back to sauropods next time!
- Dilkes, David W. 1998. The Early Triassic rhynchosaur Mesosuchus browni and the interrelationships of basal archosauromorph reptiles. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 353:501-541.
- Kellner, Alexander W. A., and Yukimitsu Tomida. 2000. Description of a new species of Anhangueridae (Pterodactyloidea) with comments on the pterosaur fauna from the Santana Formation (Aptian-Albian), Northeastern Brazil. National Science Museum monographs, Tokyo, 17. 135 pages.
- Nesbitt, Sterling J., Michelle R. Stocker, Bryan J. Small and Alex Downs. 2009. The osteology and relationships of Vancleavea campi (Reptilia: Archosauriformes). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 157:814-864.
- Nosotti, Stefania. 2007. Tanystropheus longobardicus (Reptilia, Protorosauria): re-interpretations of the anatomy based on new specimens from the Middle Triassic of Besano (Lombardy, Northern Italy). Memorie della Societa Italiana di Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano 35(III). 88pp.
- Spielmann, Justin A., Spencer G. Lucas, Larry F. Rinehart and Andrew B. Heckert. 2008. The Late Triassic Archosauromorph Trilophosaurus. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 43.
- Justin A. Spielmann, Spencer G. Lucas, Andrew B. Heckert, Larry F. Rinehart and H. Robin Richards III. 2009. Redescription of Spinosuchus caseanus (Archosauromorpha: Trilophosauridae) from the Upper Triassic of North America. Palaeodiversity 2:283-313.
- Sues, Hans-Dieter. 2003. An unusual new archosauromorph reptile from the Upper Triassic Wolfville Formation of Nova Scotia. Canadian Journal of Earth Science 40:635-649.
February 6, 2015
This just in, from Zurriaguz and Powell’s (2015) hot-off-the-press paper describing the morphology and pneumatic features of the presacral column of the derived titanosaur Saltasaurus. (Thanks to Darren for bringing this paper to my attention.)
Now, as everyone knows, titanosaurs don’t have epipophyses. In fact, they’re the one major sauropod group where Matt has not observed them.
Look at the left postzygapophysis, at top left of this image. Doesn’t that look like there’s a distinct rounded eminence sticking out towards the camera?
No? Not convinced? All right, then, how about this?
This time, look at the right postzyg (again at top left in the image). Doesn’t that look like there are two separate bony structures up there separated by a notch? A postzygapophyseal facet below, and an epipophysis above? Right?
Huh? What’s that? Just damage, you say?
All right. Let’s bring out the smoking gun.
Again up at top left, we seem to have a clear case of a ventrally directed postzygapophyseal facet surmounted by a separate eminence which can only be an epipophysis. It even seems to be roughened for tendon attachment.
What does this mean? Only the same thing we said last time: The more we look for epipophyses, the more we find them. Amazing how often that turns out to be true of various things.
We seem to be headed towards the conclusion that epipophyses, while never ubiquitous, pop up in all sorts of places scattered all across the ornithodiran tree, encompassing birds, other theropods, sauropods, prosauropods, several groups of ornithischians, and both pterodactyloid and “rhamphorhynchoid” pterosaurs.
But what about outside Ornithodira?
Can we find epipophyses even out there, in the wilderness?
February 5, 2015
It’s well known that there is good fossil material of the giant azhdarchid pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus out there, but that for various complicated reasons it’s yet to be published. But as part of our ongoing quest for pterosaur epipophyses, I have obtained these photos of a pretty well preserved single cervical, probably C3, which is either Quetzalcoatlus or something pretty darned close.
My thanks go, in chronological order, to Rob Knell of QMC for taking the photos; to Don Brinkman for permission to share them publicly; and to Mike Habib (the USC one, not the Elsevier one) for passing them on to me. (The composition is my own work, which anyone is free to reuse so far as I’m concerned.)
Here’s what Mike Habib says about the specimen:
… well preserved TMP azhdarchid cervical vertebra. It is likely a CIII vert, and appears to be from an animal very similar to the small morph of Quetzalcoatlus in overall morphology. The associated humerus is just about an exact match. This cervical, however, does not quite match the proportions of any of the Q. sp. cervical verts, though that’s not a surprise given that the animals come from different horizons. There is a much larger, but poorly preserved cervical vert at the TMP as well (a Q. northropi sized animal, give or take).
Here are Mike’s measurements:
- maximum length: 142.2 mm
- minimum mediolateral breadth: 39.3 mm
- minimum dorsoventral breadth: 27.4 mm
- midshaft mediolateral breadth 40.0 mm
- midshaft dorsoventral breadth 27.0 mm
- mediolateral breadth across prezygapophyses: 65.6 mm
- mediolateral breadth across postzygapophyses: 68.5 mm
- dorsoventral breadth at postzygapophyses: 35.8 mm
(I mean those are the measurements that Mike provided for the vertebra, not the measurements of Mike himself. He’s much bigger than that.)
So does this specimen have epipophyses? Frustratingly, there don’t seem to be lateral or posterior-view photos, so it’s very hard to tell from these dorsal and ventral ones. Happily, the same specimen was illustrated and briefly described by Godfrey and Currie (2005:294-299), along with several other less well-preserved cervicals — so we do have drawings of these other views:
(The specimen number given here is slightly different from that given for the photos, but matches the label in the ventral-view photo. I assume that the leading “93” part of the specimen number is a year, and that it’s sometimes but not always given in four digits.)
The text of the description does not mention epipophyses, and skips very lightly over the whole postzygapophyseal area. But figures 16.1B (lateral) and 16.1E (posterior) both seem to show distinct bulbous eminences well above the postzygapophyseal facets. I think these have to be epipophyses. So Mark Witton’s caution not to write off azhdarchid epipophyses on the strength of their apparent absence in Phosphatodraco proves well-founded.
What is the moral here?
The more we look for epipophyses, the more we find them.
Which will be strangely familiar to anyone who remembers our experience with caudal pneumaticity in sauropods, which was: the more we looked for it, the more we found it.
If we have an SV-POW! motto (other than “sauropods are awesome”, of course), it’s “Measure your damned dinosaur!“. But if we had a third motto, it would be like unto it: look at your damned dinosaur. Or pterosaur, as the case may be. The odds are, you’ll see things you weren’t expecting.
Many thanks for the various people who chipped in, both in comments on the last post and in this thread on twitter, where I asked a bunch of pterosaur experts for their thoughts on epipophyses in pterosaurs. I now know more than I previously knew about epipophyses outside of Sauropoda — and especially outside Dinosauria. I’ll try to credit everyone who contributed.
Occasional SV-POW!sketeer Darren Naish claims that according to the literature, ornithischians lack epipophyses — something that we’ve seen is untrue. I never got references out of him, though. Can anyone point me to the guilty literature?
Darren also gave me the rather cryptic instruction “Look at Anhanguera monographs. Sorry, can’t check myself.” Like something from a spy novel. Checking out Kellner and Tomida (2000), I found their illustration of the Anhanguera atlas/axis complex, in figure 14B, suggestive:
It took me a while to figure this out, but I think this is showing the first three cervicals, not two: the atlas is tiny, and is smushed onto the front of the axis; C3 is shown, but only in outline, and is ignored in the caption.
As labelled, the postzygapophyseal facet of the axis is tiny — and there’s a definite protuberance above it, which can only be an epipophysis. But we’d need photos to be confident. The good news is that there is a photo in the paper — part A of the same figure. But the bad news is that here’s how it looks in my scan:
Not so helpful. If anyone has a good scan — or better still an original photo — I’d like to see it.
Darren also commented “Most big pterosaurs lack epipophyses. Ornithocheirids may be the exception”, but there his hints dried up. Mark Witton cautioned me: “Not sure for azhdarchids. Well preserved verts have reduced features, but not entirely absent as badly preserved verts suggest.” So perhaps the Phosphatodrado vertebrae in the last post are not so compelling as they seem.
Liz Martin suggested “off the top of my head you could check Wellnhofer papers. 1991 and 1985 I think show verts.” But I couldn’t find any vertebrae in the only Wellnhofer (1985) that I have; and there are at least three Wellnhofer publications from 1991, which I’ve not checked yet. Any more guidance, anyone?
So how widespread are epipohyses? Brusatte et al. (2010:73) gave “Epipophyses on the cervical vertebrae” as a synapomorphy diagnosing Dinosauria:
18.104.22.168. Epipophyses on the cervical vertebrae. Epipophyses are projections of bone, likely for muscle and ligament attachment, which protrude from the dorsal surfaces of the postzygapophyses of the cervical vertebrae. All basal dinosaurs possess epipophyses (Langer and Benton, 2006), although the size, shape, length, and projection angle of these processes vary considerably (e.g., compare Coelophysis (Colbert, 1989) with the more derived theropod Majungasaurus (O’Connor, 2007)). Basal ornithischians (e.g., Heterodontosaurus) only have epipophyses on the anterior cervical vertebrae, whereas saurischians have epipophyses in nearly all cervical vertebrae (Langer and Benton, 2006). Epipophyses are not present in the closest relatives of dinosaurs (e.g., Marasuchus, Silesaurus), but are present in some crurotarsans (e.g., Lotosaurus and Revueltosaurus).
It’s surprising that they’d mention dinosaurs and croc-line archosaurs, but overlook pterosaurs, which are phylogenetically bracketed by that group. But there’s lots of useful detail to follow up in the citations, which I’ll be doing soon.
So: moving down the tree from Sauropoda, we see epipophyses:
- often but not always in sauropods
- rarely in basal sauropodomorphs
- often, maybe always, in theropods
- intermittently but not infrequently in ornithischians
- in at least some basal dinosauriforms
- in some groups of pterosaurs but not others
- in at least some croc-line archosaurs — but not, for example, in alligators.
Does anyone know of epipophyses outside Archosauria?
We seem now to be stumbling towards a conclusion of sorts, which is that epipophyses seem to be rather phylogenetically labile, coming and going within numerous lineages. As with so many vertebral features, they also vary with serial position, which complicates matters; and, I dare guess, with ontogeny.
I’ve not been able to locate any publications that are specifically about epipophyses (just lots that mention them in passing). Does anyone know of such a thing?
- Brusatte, Stephen L., Sterling J. Nesbitt, Randall B. Irmis, Richard J. Butler, Michael J. Benton, and Mark A. Norell. 2010. The origin and early radiation of dinosaurs. Earth-Science Reviews 101(1):68-100.
- Kellner, Alexander W. A., and Yukimitsu Tomida. 2000. Description of a new species of Anhangueridae (Pterodactyloidea) with comments on the pterosaur fauna from the Santana Formation (Aptian-Albian), Northeastern Brazil. National Science Museum monographs, Tokyo, no. 17. 135 pages.
- Wellnhofer, Peter. 1985. Neue pterosaurier aus der Santana-Formation (Apt) der Chapada Do Araripe, Brasilien. Paläontographica A 187:105-182. [in German]
February 2, 2015
Matt’s last post contained a nice overview of the occurrence of epipophyses in sauropodomorphs: that is, bony insertion points for epaxial ligaments and muscles above the postzygapophyseal facets. What we’ve not mentioned so far is that these structures are not limited to sauropods. Back when we were preparing one of the earlier drafts of the paper that eventually became Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks (Taylor and Wedel 2013a), I explored their occurrence in related groups. But that section never got written up for the manuscript, and now seems as good a time as any to fix that.
Theropods (including birds)
Most obviously, epipophyses occur in theropods, the sister group of sauropodomorphs.
In this figure from the 2013 paper, the rightmost images show cervical vertebrae of Majungasaurus (an abelisaurid theropod) and a turkey, both in posterior view. The red arrows indicate epaxial musculature pulling on the epipophyses. They are particularly prominent in Majungasaurus, rising almost a full centrum’s height above the postzygapophyseal facets.
The epipophyses are very prominent in the anterior cervicals of Tyrannosaurus, but much less so in its posterior cervicals — presumably because its flesh-tearing moves involved pulling upwards more strongly on the anterior part of the neck. Here’s a photo of the AMNH mount, from our post T. rex‘s neck is pathetic:
You can see something similar in the neck of Allosaurus, and the trend generally seems to be widespread among theropods.
Note the very prominent epipophyses protruding above the postzygs in the anterior cervicals of this Heterodontosaurus in the AMNH public gallery:
Here’s the hadrosaur Corythosaurus:
The prominent vertebra is C2: note that is has both a modest blade-like neural spine and prominent epipophyses — but that already by C3 the epipophyses are gone. Here is that C2 postzyg/epipophyses complex is close-up, clearly showing anteroposteriorly directed striations on the epipophysis, presumably representing the orientation of the attaching ligaments and muscles:
Here’s a close-up of the neck of the boring ornithopod Tenontosaurus, also in the AMNH gallery. (I’m not sure of the specimen number — if anyone can clarify, please leave a comment).
The interesting thing here is that it its axis (C2) seems to lack epipophyses (unlike C3), and to have a tall blade-like neural spine, as seen in mammals. We don’t really see C2 spines this big in other dinosaurs — compare with the much more modest spine in Corythosaurus, above. The texture of this part of the Tenontosaurus specimen looks suspicious, and I wonder whether that neural spine is a fabrication, created back in the day by AMNH staff who were so used to mammals that they “knew” what a C2 should look like? Anyway, the epipophysis above the postzyg of C3 is very distinct and definitely real bone.
Things get much more difficult with pterosaurs, because their cervicals are so fragile and easily crushed (like the rest of their skeleton, to be fair). While it’s easy to find nice, well-preserved ornithischian necks on display, you don’t ever really see anything similar for pterosaurs.
As a result, we have to rely on specimen photographs from collections, or more often on interpretive drawings. Even high-resolution photos, such as the one in Frey and Tischlinger (2012: fig 2) tend not to show the kind of detail we need. Usually, the only usable information comes from drawings made by people who have worked on the specimens.
Here, for example, is Rhamphorhynchus, well known as the most difficult pterosaur to spell, in figure 7 from Bonde and Christiansen’s (2003) paper on its axial pneumaticity:
It’s not the main point of the illustration, but you can make out clear epipophyses extending posteriorly past the postzygapophyseal facets in at least C3 and C5 — in C4, the relevant area is obscured by a rib. (Note that the vertebrae are upside down in this illustration, so you need to be looking towards the bottom of the picture.)
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a better illustration of Rhamphorhynchus epipophyses, but as I get older my memory for Rhamphorhynchus epipophyses is no longer what it used to be and I can’t remember where. Can anyone help?
But also of interest is the azhdarchid pterosaur Phosphatodraco, here illustrated by Pereda Suberbiola et al. (2003):
The cervicals of Phosphatodraco seem to have no epipophyses. So they were not ubiquitous in pterosaurs.
What does it all mean? This post has become a bit of a monster already so I’ll save the conclusion for another time. Stay tuned for more hot epipophyseal action!
- Bonde, Niels and Per Christiansen. 2003. The detailed anatomy of Rhamphorhynchus: axial pneumaticity and its implications. pp 217-232 in: E. Buffetaut and J-M Mazin (eds), Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 217. doi:10.1144/GSL.SP.2003.217.01.13
- Frey Eberhard and Helmut Tischlinger. 2012. The Late Jurassic Pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, a Frequent Victim of the Ganoid Fish Aspidorhynchus? PLoS ONE 7(3):e31945. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031945
- Janensch, Werner. 1950. Die Wirbelsaule von Brachiosaurus brancai. Palaeontographica, Supplement 7 3:27-93.
- O’Connor Patrick M. 2007. The postcranial axial skeleton of Majungasaurus crenatissimus (Theropoda: Abelisauridae) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. pp 127-162 in: S. D. Sampson., D. W. Krause (eds), Majungasaurus crenatissimus (Theropoda: Abelisauridae) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir 8.
- Osborn, Henry F., and Charles C. Mook. 1921. Camarasaurus, Amphicoelias and other sauropods of Cope. Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, New Series 3:247-387.
- Pereda Suberbiola, Xabier, Nathalie Bardet, Stéphane Jouve, Mohamed Iarochène, Baadi Bouya and Mbarek Amaghzaz. 2003. A new azhdarchid pterosaur from the Late Cretaceous phosphates of Morocco. pp 79-90 in: E. Buffetaut and J-M Mazin (eds), Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 217. doi:10.1144/GSL.SP.2003.217.01.08
- Taylor, Michael P., and Mathew J. Wedel. 2013. Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks. PeerJ 1:e36 doi:10.7717/peerj.36
February 2, 2015
Introduction and Background
I have three goals with this post:
- To document the range of variation in epipophyses in the cervical vertebrae of sauropods.
- To show that the “finger-like processes” overhanging the cervical postzygapophyses in the newly described Qijianglong are not novel or mysterious structures, just very well developed epipophyses.
- Finally, to show that similar long, overhanging epipophyses are present in other mamenchisaurids, although as far as I can tell no-one has noted them previously.
Epipophyses are muscle attachment points dorsal to the postzygapophyses, for the insertion of long, multi-segment epaxial (dorsal) neck muscles in birds and other dinosaurs. I know that they turn up occasionally in non-dinosaurian archosaurs, and possibly in other amniotes, but for the purposes of this post I’m only considering their distribution in sauropods. For some quick background info on epipophyses and the muscles that attach to them, see the second half of this post, and see Wedel and Sanders (2002) and Taylor and Wedel (2013a) for further discussion and more pictures.
Before we start with the pictures, a fiddly nomenclatural point: this muscle attachment point dorsal to the postzyg has traded under at least six names to date.
- The ‘Owenian’ term, used by virtually all non-avian theropod workers, by Sereno et al. (1999) for Jobaria, and probably by loads of other sauropod workers (including myself, lately) is epipophysis.
- Beddard (1898) referred to this feature in birds as the hyperapophysis; this term seems to have fallen completely out of use.
- Boas (1929), again referring to birds, called it the processus dorsalis. Zweers et al. (1987: page 138 and table 1) followed this terminology, which is how I learned of it when I was an undergrad at OU.
- Baumel and Witmer (1993) called this feature in birds the torus dorsalis (note 125 on page 87), which some authors have informalized to dorsal torus (e.g., Harris 2004: page 1243 and fig. 1). Baumel and Witmer (1993: page 87) note that, “the use of ‘Torus’ is preferable since it avoids confusion with the spinous [dorsal] process of the neural arch”.
- In my own early papers (e.g., Wedel et al. 2000b) and blog posts I called this feature the dorsal tubercle, which was my own attempt at an informal term matching ‘processus dorsalis’ or ‘torus dorsalis’. That was unfortunate, since there are already several other anatomical features in vertebrates that go by the same name, including the dorsal-facing bump on the dorsal arch of the atlas in many vertebrates, and a bump on the humerus in birds and some other taxa. In more recent papers (e.g., Taylor and Wedel 2013a) I’ve switched over to ‘epipophysis’.
- In the last post, Mike coined the term parapostzygapophysis for this feature in Qijianglong. [Note: he now regrets this.]
As usual, if you know of more terms for this feature, or additional history on the ones listed above, please let us know in the comments.
Now, on to the survey.
I haven’t seen very many prominent epipophyses in basal sauropodomorphs. Probably the best are these in the near-sauropod Leonerasaurus, which is very sauropod-like in other ways as well. Modifed from Pol et al. (2011: fig. 5).
This combination of photograph and interpretive drawing neatly shows why it’s often difficult to spot epipophyses in photos: unless you can make out the postzygapophyseal facet, which is often located more anteriorly than you might guess, you can’t tell when the epipophysis projects further posteriorly, as in the last of these vertebrae. In this case you can make it out, but only because the interpretive drawing shows the facet much more clearly than the photo.
The most basal sauropod in which I have seen clear evidence of epipophyses is Tazoudasaurus. They’re not very apparent in lateral view, but in posterior view the epipophyses are clearly visible as bumps in the spinopostzygapophyeal laminae (SPOLs). Modified from Allain and Aquesbi (2008: fig. 9).
In addition to Qijianglong, some other basal eusauropods have prominent epipophyses. Probably the best known is Jobaria; Sereno et al. (1999: fig. 3) figured and labeled the epipophysis in one of the cervical vertebrae. The vertebra image in that figure is tiny (nice work, glam-magz!), so here are some sketches of Jobaria mid-cervicals (from two different individuals) that I made back in the day when I was doing the research for Gary Staab’s Jobaria neck sculpture (see Sanders et al. 2000 for our SVP abstract about that project).
Turiasaurus also has prominent, overhanging epipophyses in at least some of its cervical vertebrae. You can just make one out as a tiny spike a few pixels long in Royo-Torres et al. (2006: fig. 1K). I have seen that cervical firsthand and I can confirm that the epipophyses in Turiasaurus are virtually identical to those in Jobaria.
It’s not air-tight, but there is suggestive evidence of projecting epipophyses in some other mamenchisaurids besides Qijianglong.
If you’re really hardcore, you may remember that back in 2005, Mike got to go up on a lift at the Field Museum of Natural History to get acquainted with a cast skeleton of Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis that was mounted there temporarily. During that adventure he took some photos that seem to show projecting epipophyses in at least two of the mid-cervicals. At least, if they’re not epipophyses, I don’t know what they might be.
Here they are again in medial view. My only reservation is that these vertebrae were distorted to begin with, and some features of the cast are very difficult to interpret. So, probably epipophyses, but it would be nice to check the original material at some point.
Something similar may be present in some posterior cervical vertebrae of Mamenchisaurus youngi. Here’s Figure 17 from Ouyang and Ye (2002). The “poz” label does not not seem to be pointing to the articular facet of the postzygapophysis, which looks to be a little more anterior and ventral, below the margin of the PODL. If that’s the case, then C15 has long, overhanging epipophyses like those of Jobaria. C16 has a more conservative bump, which is to be expected – the epipophyses typically disappear through the cervico-dorsal transition.
Finally, here’s a cervical vertebra of Omeisaurus junghsiensis from Young (1939: fig. 2). I don’t want to hang very much on just a few pixels, but my best guess at the extent of the postzygapophyseal articular facet is shown in the interpretation above. If that’s correct, then this specimen of Omeisaurus had really long epipophyses, rivaling those of Qijianglong. Unfortunately that’s impossible to check, because this specimen has been lost (pers. comm. from Dave Hone, cited in Taylor and Wedel 2013).
Haplocanthosaurus nicely shows that the epipophyses can be large in terms of potential muscle attachment area without projecting beyond the posterior margins of the postzygapophyses. Here is C14 of H. priscus, CM 572, in posterior and lateral views, modified from Hatcher (1903: plate 1).
Epipophyses that actually overhang the postzygapophyses are not common in Diplodocidae but they do occasionally occur. Here are prominent, spike-like epipophyses in Diplodocus (upper left, from Hatcher 1901: plate 3), Barosaurus (upper right), Kaatedocus (lower left, Tschopp and Mateus 2012: fig. 10), and Leinkupal (lower right, Gallina et al. 2014: fig. 1).
Of course, the champion epiphysis-bearer among diplodocoids is the weird little rebbachisaurid Nigersaurus. Here’s a Nigersaurus mid-cervical, from Sereno et al. (2007: fig. 3). Note that the projecting portions of the epipophysis is roughly as long as the articular surface of the postzygapophysis.
The epipophysis in this cervical of Australodocus just barely projects beyond the posterior margin of the postzygapophysis.
In Giraffatitan, epipophyses are absent or small in anterior cervicals but they are prominent in C6-C8. Here’s a posterolateral view of C8, showing very large epipophyses that are elevated several centimeters above the postzygapophyses. You can also see clearly in this view that the spinopostzygapophyseal lamina (SPOL) and postzygodiapophyseal lamina (PODL) converge at the epipophysis, not the postzygapophysis itself.
The holotype of Sauroposeidon, OMNH 53062, is similar to Giraffatitan in that the two anterior cervical vertebrae (possibly C5 and C6) have no visible epipophyses, but epipophyses are prominent in the two more posterior vertebrae (possibly C7 and C8). Click to enlarge – I traced the articular facet of the postzygapophysis in ?C8 to more clearly separate it from the epipophysis. For a high resolution photograph of that same vertebra that clearly shows the postzyg facet and the epipophysis dorsal to it, see this post.
Oddly enough, I’ve never seen prominent epipophyses in a titanosaur. In Malawisaurus, Trigonosaurus, Futalognkosaurus, Rapetosaurus, Alamosaurus, and Saltasaurus, the SPOLs (such as they are – inflated-looking titanosaur cervicals do not have the same crisply-defined laminae seen in most other sauropods) merge into the postzygapophyseal rami and there are no bumps sticking up above or out beyond the articular facets of the postzygs. I don’t know what to make of that, except to note that several of the animals just mentioned have mediolaterally wide, almost balloon-shaped cervical neural spines. In our 2013 PeerJ paper, Mike and I argued that the combination of tall neural spines and tall epipophyses in the cervical vertebrae of sauropods made them functionally intermediate between crocs (huge neural spines, no epipophyses) and birds (small or nearly nonexistent neural spines, big epipophyses). Perhaps most titanosaurs reverted to a more croc-like arrangement with most of the long epaxial neck muscles inserting on the neural spine instead of the postzygapophyseal ramus. I’ve never seen that possibility discussed anywhere, nor the apparent absence of epipophyses in most titanosaurs. As usual, if you know otherwise, please let me know in the comments!
And as long as we’re discussing the phylogenetic distribution of epipophyses, it is interesting that long, overhanging epipophyses are so broadly but sporadically distributed. They turn up in some non-neosauropods (Jobaria, Turiasaurus, Omeisaurus) and some diplodocoids (Nigersaurus, the occasional vertebra in Diplodocus and Leinkupal), but not in all members of either assemblage, and they seem to be absent in Macronaria (although many non-titanosaurs have shorter epipophyses that don’t overhang the postzygs). I strongly suspect that a lot of this is actually individual variation that we’re not perceiving as such because our sample sizes of almost all sauropods are tiny, usually just one individual. Epipophyses are definitely muscle attachment sites in birds and no better hypothesis has been advanced to explain their presence in other archosaurs. Muscle attachment scars are notoriously variable in terms of their relative development and expression among individuals, and it would be odd if epipophyses were somehow exempt from that inherent variability.
It also seems more than likely that ontogeny plays a role: progressive ossification of tendons attached at the epipophyses would have the effect of elongating the preserved projection. And since for some aspects of sauropod vertebral morphology, serial position recapitulates ontogeny (Wedel and Taylor 2013b), it shouldn’t be surprising that we see differences in the prominence of the epipophyses along the neck.
Back to Qijianglong
By now it should be clear that the “finger-like processes” in Qijianglong are indeed epipophyses, and although they are quite long, they aren’t fundamentally different from what we see in many other sauropods. I haven’t gone to the trouble, but one could line up all of the vertebrae figured above in terms of epipophysis size or length, and Qijianglong would sit comfortably at one end with Omeisaurus and Mamenchisaurus, just beyond Nigersaurus and Jobaria.
The strangest thing about the epipophyses in Qijianglong is that they seem to be bent or broken downward in two of the vertebrae (B and H in the figure above). I assume that’s just taphonomic distortion – the cervical shown in H wouldn’t even be able to articulate with the vertebra behind it if the epipophysis really drooped down like that. The epipophyses in Qijianglong seem to mostly manifest as thin spikes of bone (or maybe plates, as shown in B and I), so it’s not surprising that they would get distorted – most of the vertebrae shown above have cervical ribs that are incomplete or missing as well.
One more noodle-y thought about big epipophyses. I wrote in the last section that I’ve never seen them in titanosaurs, possibly because titanosaurs have big neural spines for their epaxial muscles to attach to. Maybe long, overhanging epipophyses are so common in mamenchisaurids because their neural spines are so small and low. Although we tend to think of them as a basal group somewhat removed from the “big show” in sauropod evolution – the neosauropods – mamenchisaurids did a lot of weird stuff. At least in terms of their neck muscles, they may have been the most birdlike of all sauropods. Food for thought.
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