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Keywords:

  • Bone histology;
  • Late Cretaceous;
  • Morocco;
  • osteosclerosis;
  • palaeoecology;
  • pachyostosis;
  • Pachyvaranus;
  • phosphates;
  • Squamata

The histological organization of the vertebrae of the Maastrichtian squamate Pachyvaranus crassispondylus Arambourg, 1952, was compared to that of various extant squamates, in order to further document the causes and functional consequences of the so-called ‘pachyostosis’, frequently observed in Late Cretaceous squamates. The vertebrae of Pachyvaranus are composed of the same basic bone tissue types as those of extant lizards and snakes. In particular, periosteal cortices are made of a pseudolamellar (or ‘parallel-fibred’) tissue, with radial vascular canals, Sharpey's fibres and conspicuous cyclic growth marks that are strictly identical to that found in extant varanids. Conversely, the vertebrae of Pachyvaranus are extremely compact, whereas those of extant squamates are very cancellous and lightly built. This difference is due to the absence in Pachyvaranus of a broad internal resorption field that, in extant lizards and snakes, transforms compact cortices into loose spongy formations. This absence of inner bone resorption typically corresponds to an osteosclerotic process. In Pachyvaranus, cortical hyperplasy, or pachyostosis stricto sensu, was restricted to the walls of the neural spine. Extreme vertebral porosity is likely to be a primitive condition in squamates, because all lizards and snakes examined in this study display this feature. Therefore, the high vertebral compactness observed in Pachyvaranus would be a derived condition arising from the loss (or de-differentiation) of a morphogenetic process: the broad internal resorption of the vertebrae. Possible palaeoecological bearings of these results are discussed.