Osteohistological description of ostrich and emu long bones, with comments on markers of growth

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Ostriches and emus are among the largest extant birds and are frequently used as modern analogs for the growth dynamics of non-avian theropod dinosaurs. These ratites quickly reach adult size in under 1 year, and as such do not typically exhibit annually deposited growth marks. Growth marks, commonly classified as annuli or lines of arrested growth (LAGs), represent reduced or halted osteogenesis, respectively, and their presence demonstrates varying degrees of developmental plasticity. Growth marks have not yet been reported from ostriches and emus, prompting authors to suggest that they have lost the plasticity required to deposit them. Here we observe the hind limb bone histology of three captive juvenile emus and one captive adult ostrich. Two of the three juvenile emus exhibit typical bone histology but the third emu, a 4.5-month-old juvenile, exhibits a regional arc of avascular tissue, which we interpret as a growth mark. As this mark is not present in the other two emus from the same cohort and it co-occurs with a contralateral broken fibula, we suggest variable biomechanical load as a potential cause. The ostrich exhibits a complete ring of avascular, hypermineralized bone with sparse, flattened osteocyte lacunae. We identify this as an annulus and interpret it as slowing of growth. In the absence of other growth marks and lacking the animal's life history, the timing and cause of this ostrich's reduced growth are unclear. Even so, these findings demonstrate that both taxa retain the ancestral developmental plasticity required to temporarily slow growth. We also discuss the potential challenges of identifying growth marks using incomplete population data sets and partial cortical sampling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-526
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • annuli
  • emu
  • growth marks
  • lines of arrested growth
  • osteohistology
  • ostrich


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