Filippo Bertozzo, Fabio Marco Dalla Vecchia & Matteo Fabbri (2017)
The Venice specimen of Ouranosaurus nigeriensis (Dinosauria, Ornithopoda).
Ouranosaurus nigeriensis is an iconic African dinosaur taxon that has been described on the basis of two nearly complete skeletons from the Lower Cretaceous Gadoufaoua locality of the Ténéré desert in Niger. The entire holotype and a few bones attributed to the paratype formed the basis of the original description by Taquet (1976). A mounted skeleton that appears to correspond to O. nigeriensis has been on public display since 1975, exhibited at the Natural History Museum of Venice. It was never explicitly reported whether the Venice specimen represents a paratype and therefore, the second nearly complete skeleton reported in literature or a third unreported skeleton. The purpose of this paper is to disentangle the complex history of the various skeletal remains that have been attributed to Ouranosaurus nigeriensis (aided by an unpublished field map of the paratype) and to describe in detail the osteology of the Venice skeleton. The latter includes the paratype material (found in 1970 and collected in 1972), with the exception of the left femur, the right coracoid and one manus ungual phalanx I, which were replaced with plaster copies, and (possibly) other manus phalanges. Some other elements (e.g., the first two chevrons, the right femur, the right tibia, two dorsal vertebrae and some pelvic bones) were likely added from other individual/s. The vertebral column of the paratype was articulated and provides a better reference for the vertebral count of this taxon than the holotype. Several anatomical differences are observed between the holotype and the Venice specimen. Most of them can be ascribed to intraspecific variability (individual or ontogenetic), but some are probably caused by mistakes in the preparation or assemblage of the skeletal elements in both specimens. The body length of the Venice skeleton is about 90% the linear size of the holotype. Osteohistological analysis (the first for this taxon) of some long bones, a rib and a dorsal neural spine reveals that the Venice specimen is a sub-adult; this conclusion is supported by somatic evidence of immaturity. The dorsal ‘sail’ formed by the elongated neural spines of the dorsal, sacral and proximal caudal vertebrae characterizes this taxon among ornithopods; a display role is considered to be the most probable function for this bizarre structure. Compared to the mid-1970s, new information from the Venice specimen and many iguanodontian taxa known today allowed for an improved diagnosis of O. nigeriensis.