Ontogeny of the tessellated skeleton: Insight from the skeletal growth of the round stingray Urobatis halleri

  • Dean M
  • Mull C
  • Gorb S
 et al. 
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The majority of the skeleton of elasmobranch fishes (sharks, rays and relatives) is tessellated: uncalcified cartilage is overlain by a superficial rind of abutting, mineralized, hexagonal blocks called tesserae. We employed a diversity of imaging techniques on an ontogenetic series of jaw samples to investigate the development of the tessellated skeleton in a stingray (Urobatis halleri). We compared these data with the cellular changes that characterize cartilage calcification in bony skeletons. Skeletal growth is characterized by the appearance of tesserae as well as changes in chondrocyte shape, arrangement and density. Yolk sac embryos (35-56 mm disc width, DW) have untessellated lower jaw tissue wrapped in perichondrium and densely packed with chondrocytes. Chondrocyte density decreases dramatically after yolk sac absorption (histotroph stage: 57-80 mm DW) until the formation of tesserae, which are first visible using our techniques as thin (approximately 60 microm), sub-perichondral plaques. During the histotroph stage, flattened chondrocytes align parallel to the perichondrium at the tissue periphery, where we believe they are incorporated into developing tesserae to form the cell-rich laminae observed within tesserae; in older animals peripheral cells in the uncalcified phase are rounder and less uniformly oriented. By parturition (approximately 75 mm DW), cell density and the number of adjoining chondrocyte pairs (an indicator of cell division) have dropped to less than a third of their initial values; these remain low and tesserae continue to grow in size. The tessellated skeleton is a simple solution to the conundrum of growth in an endoskeleton with external mineralization and no remodeling. Although we see parallels with endochondral ossification (e.g. chondrocytes decreasing in density with age), the lack of chondrocyte hypertrophy and the fact that mineralization is sub-perichondral (not the case in mammalian cartilage) suggest that the similarities end there.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Cartilage
  • Chondrocytes
  • Development
  • Elasmobranch
  • Mineralization
  • Skeletal Evolution
  • Tesserae
  • Vertebrate skeleton

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  • Mason N. Dean

  • Chris G. Mull

  • Stanislav N. Gorb

  • Adam P. Summers

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