Sara H. Burch (2017)
Myology of the forelimb of Majungasaurus crenatissimus (Theropoda, Abelisauridae) and the morphological consequences of extreme limb reduction.
Journal of Anatomy (advance online publication)
Forelimb reduction occurred independently in multiple lineages of theropod dinosaurs. Although tyrannosaurs are renowned for their tiny, two-fingered forelimbs, the degree of their reduction in length is surpassed by abelisaurids, which possess an unusual morphology distinct from that of other theropods. The forelimbs of abelisaurids are short but robust and exhibit numerous crests, tubercles, and scars that allow for inferences of muscle attachment sites. Phylogenetically based reconstructions of the musculature were used in combination with close examination of the osteology in the Malagasy abelisaurid Majungasaurus to create detailed muscle maps of the forelimbs, and patterns of the muscular and bony morphology were compared with those of extant tetrapods with reduced or vestigial limbs. The lever arms of muscles crossing the glenohumeral joint are shortened relative to the basal condition, reducing the torque of these muscles but increasing the excursion of the humerus. Fusion of the antebrachial muscles into a set of flexors and extensors is common in other tetrapods and occurred to some extent in Majungasaurus. However, the presence of tubercles on the antebrachial and manual elements of abelisaurids indicates that many of the individual distal muscles acting on the wrist and digits were retained. Majungasaurus shows some signs of the advanced stages of forelimb reduction preceding limb loss, while also exhibiting features suggesting that the forelimb was not completely functionless. The conformation of abelisaurid forelimb musculature was unique among theropods and further emphasizes the unusual morphology of the forelimbs in this clade.