Abstract

With a single complete mandible and 56 mandibular symphyseal fragments of various sizes, the Late Cretaceous Hungarian azhdarchid material has been considered one of the most extensive monospecific pterosaur assemblages in the world. Representing a broad size range, these elements have been thought to demonstrate a developmental series of Bakonydraco galaczi. As such, they were ideal to test whether absolute size and/or morphology reliably indicate relative ontogenetic stages in this pterosaur. Forty-five specimens were selected for multivariate morphometrics and classified into four size classes. After acquiring the morphometric data set, we thin-sectioned eight symphyses representing all size groups and classified them into relative ontogenetic stages based on qualitative microstructural inspection prior to quantitative histological analyses. Microstructural characters suggestive of developmental state were then quantified for intra- and interindividual uni- and multivariate analyses to test the correspondence among the results of qualitative and quantitative analyses. In contrast to our expectations, histological features identified the smallest specimen as an adult and not an early juvenile. The substantial size difference between this specimen and other adults, along with its distinct microanatomical and histological features, implies the presence of at least two pterosaur taxa in this symphysis assemblage. This hypothesis is further supported by multivariate morphometrics, which separate the smallest symphyses from all other specimens that form one continuous group. Although the latter group also shows considerable size variability in corresponding ontogenetic stages, this suggests developmental plasticity rather than the presence of even more taxa, and indicates that symphysis size and morphology are poor indicators of skeletal maturity in these animals. Hence, bone histology is an important independent test of the assessment of ontogenetic stage using size and morphology.

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