Abstract

This paper aims at assessing the influence of the bone ornamentation and, specifically, the associated loss of bone mass on the mechanical response of the crocodylomorph osteoderms. To this end, we have performed three-dimensional (3D) modeling and a finite element analysis on a sample that includes both extant dry bones and well-preserved fossils tracing back to the Late Triassic. We simulated an external attack under various angles on the apical surface of each osteoderm and further repeated the simulation on an equivalent set of smoothed 3D-modeled osteoderms. The comparative results indicated that the presence of an apical sculpture has no significant influence on the von Mises stress distribution in the osteoderm volume, although it produces a slight increase in its numerical score. Moreover, performing parametric analyses, we showed that the Young’s modulus of the osteoderm, which may vary depending on the bone porosity, the collagen fiber orientation, or the calcification density, has no impact on the von Mises stress distribution inside the osteoderm volume. As the crocodylomorph bone ornamentation is continuously remodeled by pit resorption and secondary bone deposition, we assume that the apical sculpture may be the outcome of a trade-off between the bone mechanical resistance and the involvement in physiological functions. These physiological functions are indeed based on the setup of a bone superficial vessel network and/or the recurrent release of mineral elements into the plasma: heat transfers during basking and respiratory acidosis buffering during prolonged apnea in neosuchians and teleosaurids; compensatory homeostasis in response to general calcium deficiencies. On a general morphological basis, the osteoderm geometric variability within our sample leads us to assess that the global osteoderm geometry (whether square or rectangular) does not influence the von Mises stress, whereas the presence of a dorsal keel would somewhat reduce the stress along the vertical axis.

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