Varanoid tooth eruption and implantation modes in a late cretaceous mosasaur

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Abstract

Erupting teeth are some of the oldest witnesses of developmental processes in the vertebrate fossil record and provide an important resource for vertebrate cladistics. Here, we have examined a mosasaur jaw fragment from central Texas using ultrathin ground section histology and 3D tomographic imaging to assess features critical for the cladistic placement of mosasaurs among varanoids vs. snakes: (i) the orientation of replacement teeth compared to the major tooth axis, (ii) the occurrence of resorption pits, and (iii) the mode of tooth implantation/attachment to the tooth bearing element (TBE). The replacement tooth studied here developed in an inclined position slightly distal of the deciduous parent tooth, similar to another varanoid squamate, the Gila monster Heloderma suspectum. Ground sections and tomographs also demonstrated that the replacement tooth attachment apparatus was entirely intact and that there was no evidence of mechanical deformation. Sections and tomographs further illustrated that the replacement tooth was located within a bony crypt and the inclination of the crypt matched the inclination of the replacement tooth. These preparations also revealed the presence of a resorption pit within the boundaries of the deciduous tooth that surrounded the developing replacement tooth. This finding suggests that developing mosasaur teeth developed within the walls of resorption pits similar to varanoid tooth germs and unlike developing snake teeth which are surrounded by fibrous connective tissue integuments. Finally, mosasaurs featured pseudo-thecodont tooth implantation with teeth anchored within a socket of mineralized tissue by means of a mineralized periodontal ligament. Together, these data indicate that the moderate inclination of the erupting mosasaur tooth studied here is neither a result of postmortem displacement nor a character representative of snakes, but rather a shared character between Mosasaurs and other varanoids such as Heloderma. In conjunction with the presence of resorption pits and the evidence for pseudothecodont tooth implantation, the tooth eruption and implantation characters described in the present study either place mosasaurs among the varanoids or suggest convergent evolution mechanisms between both clades, with mosasaurs evolving somewhat independently from a common varanoid ancestor.

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Liu, M., Reed, D. A., Cecchini, G. M., Lu, X., Ganjawalla, K., Gonzales, C. S., … Diekwisch, T. G. H. (2016). Varanoid tooth eruption and implantation modes in a late cretaceous mosasaur. Frontiers in Physiology, 7(MAY). https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2016.00145

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