An exceptionally preserved armored dinosaur reveals the morphology and allometry of osteoderms and their horny epidermal coverings
OPEN PeerJ | 5 Dec 2017
Although the evolution and function of “exaggerated” bony projections in ornithischian dinosaurs has been subject to significant debate recently, our understanding of the structure and morphology of their epidermal keratinized coverings is greatly limited. The holotype of Borealopelta, a new nodosaurid ankylosaur, preserves osteoderms and extensive epidermal structures (dark organic residues), in anatomic position across the entire precaudal length. Contrasting previous specimens, organic epiosteodermal scales, often in the form of horn-like (keratinous) sheaths, cap and exaggerate nearly all osteoderms, allowing for morphometric and allometric analyses of both the bony osteoderms and their horny sheaths. A total of 172 osteoderms were quantified, with osteoderm spine length and height being positively allometric with respect to basal length and width. Despite tight correlations between the different measures amongst all other osteoderms, the large parascapular spines represent consistent outliers. Thickness and relative contribution of the keratinized epiosteodermal scales/sheaths varies greatly by region, ranging from 2% to 6% for posterior thoracics, to ∼25% (1.3×) for the parascapular spines-similar to horn sheaths in some bovid analogues. Relative to the bony cores, the horny portions of the spines are strongly positively allometric (slope = 2.3, CI = 1.8-2.8). Strong allometric scaling, species-specific morphology, and significant keratinous extension of the cervicoscapular spines is consistent with elaboration under socio-sexual selection. This marks the first allometric analysis of ornithischian soft tissues.
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