Osteology, phylogeny, taphonomy, and ontogenetic histology of Oryctodromeus cubicularis, from the middle Cretaceous (Albian-Cenomanian) of Montana and Idaho
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Oryctodromeus is a small bipedal dinosaur known from middle Cretaceous (95-100 My) Wayan Formation of Idaho and the Vaughn Member of the Blackleaf Formation of Montana. This taxon is hypothesized to be a burrowing dinosaur, which cared for its young within these burrows. This dissertation is a broad three-part treatment of this taxon, and excepting the introductory and concluding chapters this dissertation consists of three main chapters. Chapter two describes the osteology and phylogenetic relationships of this animal. Notable features of the Oryctodromeus skeleton described include a network of ossified tendons along the vertebral column that completely ensheath the tail, a long tail that forms more than half the length of the animal, and unusual femoral heads whose morphology may be related to burrowing behavior. The first full skeletal and skull reconstructions of this animal are presented. Chapter three investigates patterns of preservation of Oryctodromeus. Data suggests that preservation of single to multiple individuals of this taxon typically occurred in burrows that may be difficult to impossible to recognize in the fossil record. New examples of burrows from Oryctodromeus from the Vaughn and Wayan, as well as additional evidence for social behavior, are also described. A third chapter details the ontogenetic histology, growth rates and patterns of skeletal fusion based on seven limb elements (femora and tibiae) from different individuals. Based on the data in this dissertation, three growth stages can be recognized in Oryctodromeus based on bone histology. Juveniles are defined by more rapidly growing fibrolamellar tissue, sub-adults are defined by a cortex of inner fibrolamellar tissue and outer zonal parallel fibered tissue, and near-adult individuals have tissue similar to sub adults with dense avascular bone in the outermost cortex that signals a decrease in growth rate. LAG's suggest a minimum age of six to seven years for more mature individuals. Patterns of neurocentral fusion in Oryctodromeus appear similar to those of crocodylians and some other small ornithischians, while the growth rates of Oryctodromeus appear slower than those of some dinosaurs, but similar to taxa such as Orodromeus and Tenontosaurus.