Defensive weapons of thyreophoran dinosaurs: histological comparisons and structural differences in spikes and clubs of ankylosaurs and stegosaurs

Hayashi, S., Carpenter K., Watabe M., Mateus O., & Barsbold R. (2008).  Defensive weapons of thyreophoran dinosaurs: histological comparisons and structural differences in spikes and clubs of ankylosaurs and stegosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 28(3, Supplement), 89A-90A., Number Suppl. to 3


Thyreophoran dinosaurs have spike- and club-shaped osteoderms probably used for defensive weapons. The structural and histological variations have been little known. Here, we provide the comparisons of the internal structures in defensive weapons of ankylosaurs and stegosaurs, using spikes of a polacanthid (Gastonia) and a nodosaurid (Edmontonia), clubs of ankylosaurids (Saichania and Ankylosauridae indet. from Canada), and spikes of stegosaurids (Stegosaurus and Dacentrurus), which sheds light on understandings of evolutionary history and functional implications of defensive weapons in thyreophorans. In ankylosaurs, the structural and histological features of spikes and clubs are similar with those of small osteoderms in having thin compact bones, thick cancellous bones with large vascular canals, and abundant collagen fibers. A previous study demonstrated that each of three groups of ankylosaurs (polacanthid, nodosaurid, and ankylosaurid) has distinct characteristic arrangements of collagen fibers in small osteoderms. This study shows that spikes and clubs of ankylosaurs maintain the same characteristic features for each group despite of the differences in shapes and sizes. Conversely, the spike-shaped osteoderms in primitive (Dacentrurus) and derived (Stegosaurus) stegosaurids have similar structure to each other and are significantly different from the other types of stegosaur osteoderms (throat bony ossicles and plates) in having thick compact bones with a medullary cavity. These lack abundant collagen fibers unlike ankylosaur osteoderms. The spikes of ankylosaurs and stegosaurs are similar in shape, but their structural and histological features are different in having unique structures of collagen fibers for ankylosaurs and thick compact bones for stegosaurs, providing enough strength to have large spikes and to use them as defensive weapons. Although the shapes of ankylosaur clubs are different from spikes, the internal structures are similar, suggesting that ankylosaurs maintain similar structures despite of different shapes in osteoderms. These results indicate that ankylosaurs and stegosaurs used different strategies independently to evolve defensive weapons.



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