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Data from: Vascular patterns in the heads of crocodilians: blood vessels and sites of thermal exchange

Cite this dataset

Porter, William Ruger; Sedlmayr, Jayc C.; Witmer, Lawrence M. (2017). Data from: Vascular patterns in the heads of crocodilians: blood vessels and sites of thermal exchange [Dataset]. Dryad.


Extant crocodilians are a highly apomorphic archosaur clade that is endothermic, yet often achieve large body sizes that can be subject to higher heat loads. Therefore, the anatomical and physiological roles that blood vessels play in crocodilian thermoregulation need further investigation to better understand how crocodilians establish and maintain cephalic temperatures and regulate neurosensory tissue temperatures during basking and normal activities. The cephalic vascular anatomy of extant crocodilians, particularly American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) was investigated using a differential-contrast, dual-vascular injection technique and high resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography (μCT). Blood vessels were digitally isolated to create representations of vascular pathways. The specimens were then dissected to confirm CT results. Sites of thermal exchange, consisting of the oral, nasal, and orbital regions, were given special attention due to their role in evaporative cooling and cephalic thermoregulation in other diapsids. Blood vessels to and from sites of thermal exchange were studied to detect conserved vascular patterns and to assess their ability to deliver cooled blood to neurosensory tissues. Within the orbital region, both the arteries and veins demonstrated consistent branching patterns, with the supraorbital, infraorbital, and ophthalmotemporal vessels supplying and draining the orbit. The venous drainage of the orbital region showed connections to the dural sinuses via the orbital veins and cavernous sinus. The palatal region demonstrated a vast plexus that comprised both arteries and veins. The most direct route of venous drainage of the palatal plexus was through the palatomaxillary veins, essentially bypassing neurosensory tissues. Anastomotic connections with the nasal region, however, may provide an alternative route for palatal venous blood to reach neurosensory tissues. The nasal region in crocodilians is probably the most prominent site of thermal exchange, as it offers a substantial surface area and is completely surrounded by blood vessels. The venous drainage routes from the nasal region offer routes directly to the dural venous sinuses and the orbit, offering evidence of the potential to directly affect neurosensory tissue temperatures. The evolutionary history of crocodilians is complex, with large-bodied, terrestrial, and possibly endothermic taxa that may have had to deal with thermal loads that likely provided the anatomical building-blocks for such an extensive vascularization of sites of thermal exchange. A clear understanding of the physiological abilities and the role of blood vessels in the thermoregulation of crocodilians neurosensory tissues is not available but vascular anatomical patterns of crocodilian sites of thermal exchange indicate possible physiological abilities that may be more sophisticated than in other extant diapsids.

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