Shuo Wang, Josef Stiegler, Romain Amiot, Xu Wang, Guo-hao Du, James M. Clark & Xing Xu (2016)
Extreme Ontogenetic Changes in a Ceratosaurian Theropod.
Current Biology (advance online publication)
Wang et al. report 78 ontogenetically variable features of the theropod Limusaurus
Limusaurus is the only known reptile to lose its teeth and form a beak after birth
The available data are important for understanding the evolution of the avian beak
The ontogenetically variable features have little effect on its phylogenetic position
Ontogenetic variation is documented within many dinosaur species, but extreme ontogenetic changes are rare among dinosaurs, particularly among theropods. Here, we analyze 19 specimens of the Jurassic ceratosaurian theropod Limusaurus inextricabilis, representing six ontogenetic stages based on body size and histological data. Among 78 ontogenetic changes we identify in these specimens, the most unexpected one is the change from fully toothed jaws in the hatchling and juvenile individuals to a completely toothless beaked jaw in the more mature individuals, representing the first fossil record of ontogenetic edentulism among the jawed vertebrates. Jaw morphological data, including those derived from Mi-CT and SR-μCT scanning of Limusaurus specimens, reveal dental alveolar vestiges and indicate that ontogenetic tooth loss in Limusaurus is a gradual, complex process. Our discovery has significant implications for understanding the evolution of the beak, an important feeding structure present in several tetrapod clades, including modern birds. This radical morphological change suggests a dietary shift, probably from omnivory for juvenile Limusaurus to herbivory for adult Limusaurus, which is also supported by additional evidence from gastroliths and stable isotopes. Incorporating new ontogenetic information from Limusaurus into phylogenetic analyses demonstrates surprisingly little effect on its placement when data from different stages are used exclusively, in contrast to previous analyses of tyrannosaurids, but produces subtle differences extending beyond the placement of Limusaurus.