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A nearly complete skeleton of an early juvenile diplodocid (Dinosauria: Sauropoda) from the Lower Morrison Formation (Late Jurassic) of north central Wyoming and its implications for early ontogeny and pneumaticity in sauropods

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A nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile sauropod from the Lower Morrison Formation (Late Jurassic, Kimmeridgian) of the Howe Ranch in Bighorn County, Wyoming is described. The specimen consists of articulated mid-cervical to mid-caudal vertebrae and most appendicular bones, but cranial and mandibular elements are missing. The shoulder height is approximately 67 cm, and the total body length is estimated to be less than 200 cm. Besides the body size, the following morphological features indicate that this specimen is an early juvenile; (1) unfused centra and neural arches in presacral, sacral and first to ninth caudal vertebrae, (2) unfused coracoid and scapula, (3) open coracoid foramen, and (4) relatively smooth articular surfaces on the limb, wrist, and ankle bones. A large scapula, short neck and tail and elongate forelimb bones relative to overall body size demonstrate relative growth. A thin-section of the mid-shaft of a femur shows a lack of annual growth lines, indicating an early juvenile individual possibly younger than a few years old. Pneumatic structures in the vertebral column of the specimen SMA 0009 show that pneumatisation of the postcranial skeleton had already started in this individual, giving new insights in the early ontogenetic development of vertebral pneumaticity in sauropods. The specimen exhibits a number of diplodocid features (e.g., very elongate slender scapular blade with a gradually dorsoventrally expanded distal end, a total of nine dorsal vertebrae, presence of the posterior centroparapophyseal lamina in the posterior dorsal vertebrae). Although a few diplodocid taxa, Diplodocus, cf. Apatosaurus, and cf. Barosaurus, are known from several fossil sites near the Howe Ranch, identification of this specimen, even at a generic level, is difficult due to a large degree of ontogenetic variation.
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Keywords: Diplodocidae; Late Jurassic; Sauropod; early juvenile; ontogeny; taxonomy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Naturhistorisches Museum Basel, Basel, Switzerland 2: Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, WY, USA 3: Geological Museum, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA 4: Institut für Paläontologie, Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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