Cranial anatomy of Shunosaurus, a basal sauropod dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of China

Sankar Chatterjee, Zhong Zheng

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Shunosaurus, from the Middle Jurassic of China, is probably the best-known basal sauropod and is represented by several complete skeletons. It is unique among sauropods in having a small, bony club at the end of its tail. New skull material provides critical information about its anatomy, brain morphology, tooth replacement pattern, feeding habits and phylogenetic relationships. The skull is akinetic and monimostylic. The brain is relatively small, narrow and primitively designed. The tooth replacement pattern exhibits back to front replacement waves in alternating tooth position. The teeth are spatulate, stout and show well-developed wear facets indicative of coarser plant food. Upper and lower tooth rows interdigitate and shear past each other. Tooth morphology, skull architecture, and neck posture indicate that Shunosaurus was adapted to ground feeding or low browsing. Shunosaurus exhibits the following cranial autapomorphies: emargination of the ventral margin of the jugal/quadratojugal bar behind the tooth row; postorbital contains a lateral pit; vomers do not participate in the formation of the choanae; pterygoid is extremely slender and small with a dorsal fossa; quadrate ramus of the pterygoid is forked; quadratojugal participates in the jaw articulation; tooth morphology is a combination of cylindrical and spatulate form; basipterygoid process is not wrapped by the caudal process of the pterygoid; trochlear nerve has two exits; occlusal level of the maxillary tooth row is convex downward, whereas that of the dentary is concave upward, acting like a pair of garden shears; dentary tooth count is 25 or more; and the replacing teeth invade the labial side of the functional teeth. Cranial characters among the basal sauropods are reviewed. As Shunosaurus is the earliest sauropod for which cranial remains are known, it occupies an important position phylogenetically, showing the modification of skull morphology from the prosauropod condition. Although the skull synapomorphies of Sauropoda are unknown at present, 27 cranial synapomorphies are known for the clade Eusauropoda.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-169
Number of pages25
JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2002


  • China
  • Feeding habits
  • Phylogenetic position
  • Sauropod dinosaurs
  • Skull anatomy


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