Quantification of intraskeletal histovariability in alligator mississippiensis and implications for vertebrate osteohistology

Holly N. Woodward, John R. Horner, James O. Farlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Bone microanalyses of extant vertebrates provide a necessary framework fromwhich to form hypotheses regarding the growth and skeletochronology of extinct taxa. Here, we describe the bone microstructure and quantify the histovariability of appendicular elements and osteoderms from three juvenile American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) to assess growth mark and tissue organization within and amongst individuals, with the intention of validating paleohistological interpretations. Results confirm previous observations that lamellar and parallel fibered tissue organization are typical of crocodylians, and also that crocodylians are capable of forming woven tissue for brief periods. Tissue organization and growth mark count varies across individual skeletal elements and reveal that the femur, tibia, and humerus had the highest annual apposition rates in each individual. Cyclical growth mark count also varies intraskeletally, but data suggest these inconsistencies are due to differing medullary cavity expansion rates. There was no appreciable difference in either diaphyseal circumference or cyclical growth mark circumferences between left and right element pairs from an individual if diaphyses were sampled from roughly the same location. The considerable intraskeletal data obtained here provide validation for long-held paleohistology assumptions, but because medullary expansion, cyclical growth mark formation, and variable intraskeletal growth rates are skeletal features found in tetrapod taxa living or extinct, the validations presented herein should be considered during any tetrapod bone microanalysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere422
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Alligator
  • Growth rates
  • Histology
  • Intraskeletal
  • Ontogeny
  • Paleontology
  • Variation


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