The bone histology of osteoderms in temnospondyl amphibians and in the chroniosuchian Bystrowiella


Florian Witzmann, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Museum für Naturkunde, Invalidenstrasse 43, 10115 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:


Witzmann, F. and Soler-Gijón, R. 2010. The bone histology of osteoderms in temnospondyl amphibians and in the chroniosuchian Bystrowiella. —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 91: 96–114

Bone histology of osteoderms in the armoured temnospondyl Peltobatrachus, plagiosaurids (Gerrothorax, Plagiosuchus) and dissorophids (Aspidosaurus, Cacops, Platyhystrix), as well as in the chroniosuchian Bystrowiella, is studied. The massive osteoderms of Peltobatrachus and Gerrothorax consist of homogeneous parallel-fibred bone, whereas in dissorophids, a lightly built, trabecular middle region is mantled by a thin cortex that is composed of a plywood-type structure. In Bystrowiella and Plagiosuchus, the osteoderms consist to a large degree of interwoven primary fibres and have cell lacunae that bear stumpy canaliculi. The differences in the histological structure of dissorophids and plagiosaurids suggest an iterative evolution of osteoderms. Furthermore, histology in Plagiosuchus indicates a metaplastic development of the osteoderms, whereas the osteoderms of Gerrothorax represent periosteal ossifications as in dissorophids. This suggests a convergent origin of osteoderms also within plagiosaurids. The extensive armour in Gerrothorax probably constituted a calcium reservoir, indicated by cyclical resorption events preserved in the external cortex and interpreted as a physiological response to periodic changes in salinity of the aquatic environment. In contrast, the unique osteoderm structure of dissorophids provides maximum stability and minimum bone mass, and is coherent with the interpretation that the osteoderms served to strengthen the vertebral column during terrestrial locomotion.