Palaeoecological and morphofunctional interpretation of bone mass increase: an example in Late Cretaceous shallow marine squamates

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2013 Feb;88(1):117-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2012.00243.x. Epub 2012 Sep 3.


Bone mass increase (BMI; i.e. osteosclerosis with possible additional pachyostosis) is characteristically displayed by many Late Cretaceous squamates that adapted to shallow marine environments-plesiopelvic mosasauroids, stem-ophidians and pachyophiids. A combined morphological and microanatomical analysis of vertebrae and, to a lesser extent, ribs of these fossil squamates provides new data about the distribution and variability of this osseous specialization in these taxa. Classical thin sections and third generation synchrotron microtomography and laminography were used for the microanatomical analysis. Following the explanation of the likely involvement of this specialization in the control of buoyancy, body trim and Carrier's constraint, new palaeoecological inferences and new hypotheses about the locomotor abilities and life environment of these organisms are produced. The taxa displaying BMI are considered to have undertaken long dives, hovering slowly and maintaining a horizontal trim, in shallow and protected water environments. Conversely, marine stem-ophidians deprived of this specialization are regarded as slow surface swimmers able to live in more open marine environments. This study highlights the importance of microanatomical data for palaeoecological studies. It also discusses the significance of the use of this specialization as a character in phylogenetic studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Bone Density / physiology*
  • Fossils*
  • Reptiles / anatomy & histology*
  • Reptiles / physiology*