Histological evidence of the bones of pterosaurs and dinosaurs indicates that the typically large forms of these groups grew at rates more comparable to those of birds and mammals than to those of other living reptiles. However, Scutellosaurus, a small, bipedal, basal thyreophoran ornithischian dinosaur of the Early Jurassic, shows histological features in its skeletal tissues that suggest relatively lower growth rates than in those of larger dinosaurs. In these respects Scutellosaurus, like other small dinosaurs such as Orodromeus and some basal birds, is more like young, rapidly growing crocodiles than larger, more derived ornithischians (hadrosaurs) and all saurischians (sauropods and theropods). Similar patterns can be seen in small, mostly basal pterosaurs such as Eudimorphodon and Rhamphorhynchus. However, superficial similarities to crocodile bone growth belie some important differences, which are most usefully interpreted in phylogenetic and ontogenetic contexts. Large size evolved secondarily in several dinosaurian and pterosaurian lineages. We hypothesize that this larger size was made possible by rapid growth strategies that are reflected by characteristic highly vascularized fibro-lamellar bone tissues that comprise most of the cortex. Dinosaurs and pterosaurs, like other tetrapods, generally grew more quickly in early stages and more slowly as growth neared completion. As in other vertebrate groups, taxa of small adult size may have grown at lower rates or for shorter durations than larger taxa did. Phylogenetic patterns suggest that by themselves, the low vascularity and inferred low growth rates seen in small dinosaurs and pterosaurs are not good indicators of thermometabolic regime, because they are correlated so strongly with size. They may reflect mechanical exigencies of small size rather than especially lower growth rates, tied to the process of deposition of particular kinds of bone tissues. The evolution of life history strategies in dinosaurs and pterosaurs, as they relate to rates of growth and adult body sizes, will be better understood as more complete histological studies place these data into phylogenetic and ontogenetic contexts.
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Vol. 24 • No. 3