Abstract

A partial skeleton tentatively referred to the Lower Cretaceous pliosauroid genus Leptocleidus is described from predominantly Aptian (Lower Cretaceous) opal-bearing deposits of the Bulldog Shale near Andamooka in South Australia. Small size coupled with incomplete fusion of the basicranial elements, vertebral centra, neural arches and cervical ribs, and incomplete ossification of the articular surfaces on the propodials and distal limb bones, indicate that the specimen was at an early stage in its ontogeny. Comparison with more mature specimens attributed to Leptocleidus spp. highlights several growth-related differences, particularly a marked disparity in proportions of the humerus and femur relative to the estimated maximum body length. Changes in the cranial skeleton during growth are harder to document because of the fragmentary nature of the skull. Nevertheless, fusion of some cranial sutures and well-developed cranial joint surfaces suggest that extensive ossification may have taken place in parts of the skull during early ontogeny. The potential implications of these findings for feeding, locomotion, and behavior in juvenile plesiosaurs are discussed.

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