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Keywords:

  • Choanae;
  • Plesiosauria;
  • respiration;
  • salt glands;
  • secondary palate

In the late 19th Century, the choanae (or internal nares) of the Plesiosauria were identified as a pair of palatal openings located rostral to the external nares, implying a rostrally directed respiratory duct and air path inside the rostrum. Despite obvious functional shortcomings, this idea was firmly established in the scientific literature by the first decade of the 20th Century. The functional consequences of this morphology were only re-examined by the end of the 20th Century, leading to the conclusion that the choanae were not involved in respiration but instead in underwater olfaction, the animals supposedly breathing with the mouth agape. Re-evaluation of the palatal and internal cranial anatomy of the Plesiosauria reveals that the traditional identification of the choanae as a pair of fenestrae situated rostral to the external nares appears erroneous. These openings more likely represent the bony apertures of ducts that lead to internal salt glands situated inside the maxillary rostrum. The ‘real’ functional choanae (or caudal interpterygoid vacuities), are situated at the caudal end of the bony palate between the sub-temporal fossae, as was suggested in the mid-19th Century. The existence of a functional secondary palate in the Plesiosauria is therefore strongly supported, and the anatomical, physiological, and evolutionary implications of such a structure are discussed.