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Keywords:

  • Stegosaurus;
  • osteoderms;
  • bone histology;
  • growth;
  • function;
  • Upper Jurassic;
  • western USA

Abstract:  The dinosaur Stegosaurus is characterized by osteoderms of alternating plates and terminal paired spikes. Previous studies have described the histological features and possible functions of these osteoderms. However, ontogenetic changes are poorly documented. In this study, the ontogenetic changes of the osteoderms are examined using eight different ontogenetic skeletons (a juvenile, a subadult, a young adult, and five old adults based on the cortical histology of their body skeletons). The juvenile plate and subadult spike show thin cortex and thick cancellous bone. The young adult plates have an extensive vascular network, which is also seen in old adults. Old adult spikes are different from old adult plates in having a thick cortex and a large axial channel. The cortical histology, in both plates and spikes, show well-vascularized bone tissue consisting of dense mineralized fibres in young adult forms. In old adult forms, the bone tissues in the spikes become more compact and are extensively remodelled. This might contribute to the structural reinforcement of the spikes. The plates in old adult forms also show extensive remodelling and lines of arrested growth, but only limited signs of compaction. The timing for acquisition of features seen in old adults is different between plates (an extensive vascular network in the young adult) and spikes (a thick cortex with a large axial channel in old adults). The result suggests that the timing for plate and spike functions is different. The extensive vascular networks seen in large plates suggest their function is for display and/or thermoregulation. The thick cortical bone of spikes of old adults suggests that spikes acquire a weapon function for defence ontogenetically late.