Structure and growth pattern of pseudoteeth in Pelagornis mauretanicus (Aves, Odontopterygiformes, Pelagornithidae)

PLoS One. 2013 Nov 14;8(11):e80372. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0080372. eCollection 2013.


The extinct Odontopterygiformes are the sole birds known to possess strong and sharp bony pseudoteeth, the shape and location of which are closely mimetic of real teeth. The structure of the pseudoteeth is investigated here in a late Pliocene/early Pleistocene species, Pelagornis mauretanicus, using X-ray microtomography and thin sections. The results are interpreted with regard to the pseudotooth mode of growth, and have implications concerning aspects of Pelagornis ecology. The larger pseudoteeth are hollow and approximately cone-shaped, and the smaller ones are rostro-caudally constricted. The walls of pseudoteeth are composed of bone tissue of the fibro-lamellar type, which is intensively remodeled by Haversian substitution. The jaw bones display the same structure as the pseudoteeth, but their vascular canals are oriented parallel to the long axis of the bones, whereas they are perpendicular to this direction in the pseudoteeth. There is no hiatus or evidence of a fusion between the pseudoteeth and the jaw bones. Two possible models for pseudotooth growth are derived from the histological data. The most plausible model is that pseudotooth growth began after the completion of jaw bone growth, as a simple local protraction of periosteal osteogenic activity. Pseudotooth development thus occurred relatively late during ontogeny. The highly vascularized structure and the relative abundance of parallel-fibered bone tissue in the pseudoteeth suggest poor mechanical capabilities. The pseudoteeth were most likely covered and protected by the hardened, keratinized rhamphotheca in the adult during life. The late development of the pseudoteeth would involve a similarly late and/or partial hardening of the rhamphotheca, as displayed by extant Anseriformes, Apterygiformes and some Charadriiformes. This would add support to the hypothesis of a close phylogenetic relationship between Odontopterygiformes and Anseriformes. The late maturation of the Pelagornis feeding apparatus, and hence the delayed capability for efficient prey catching, suggests that Pelagornis was altricial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Birds / classification
  • Birds / growth & development*
  • Bone and Bones / anatomy & histology*
  • Jaw / anatomy & histology
  • Phylogeny

Grant support

The French ANR-Jeune-chercheur Programme "PIAFS", ANR-11-JSV7-004-01 to AL. The programme "Préhistoire du Grand Casablanca" of the Institut National des Sciences de l′Archéologie et du Patrimoine to DG for excavations at Ahl al Oughlam. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.