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Bone. 2007 Apr;40(4):1152-8. Epub 2007 Jan 12.

Do egg-laying crocodilian (Alligator mississippiensis) archosaurs form medullary bone?

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Department of Marine, Earth, Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


It is beyond question that Mesozoic dinosaurs, like Aves and Crocodylia, are archosaurs. However, within the archosaurian clade, the origin and distribution of some major features are less clear, particularly with respect to reproductive physiology. Medullary bone, a highly mineralized, bony reproductive tissue present in the endosteal cavities of all extant egg-laying birds thus far examined, has recently been reported in Tyrannosaurus rex. Its presence or absence in extant crocodilians, therefore, may shed light on the timing of its evolutionary appearance. If medullary bone is present in all three taxa, it arose before the three lineages diverged. However, if medullary bone arose after this divergence, it may be present in both extinct dinosaurs and birds, or in birds only. If present in extinct dinosaurs and birds, but not crocodilians, it would indicate that it arose in the common ancestor of this clade, thus adding support to the closer phylogenetic relationship of dinosaurs and birds relative to crocodilians. Thus, the question of whether the crocodilian Alligator mississippiensis forms medullary bone during the production of eggs has important evolutionary significance. Our examination of long bones from several alligators (two alligators with eggs in the oviducts, one that had produced eggs in the past but was not currently in reproductive phase, an immature female and an adult male) shows no differences on the endosteal surfaces of the long bones, and no evidence of medullary bone, supporting the hypothesis that medullary bone first evolved in the dinosaur-bird line, after the divergence of crocodilians from this lineage.

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