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Data from: Developmental origins of the crocodylian skull table and platyrostral face

Cite this dataset

Morris, Zachary S.; Vliet, Kent A.; Abzhanov, Arhat; Pierce, Stephanie E. (2021). Data from: Developmental origins of the crocodylian skull table and platyrostral face [Dataset]. Dryad.


The dorsoventrally flattened skull typifies extant Crocodylia perhaps more than any other anatomical feature and is generally considered an adaptation for semi-aquatic feeding. Although the evolutionary origins have been extensively studied, the developmental origins of craniofacial flattening have yet to be explored. To understand how the skull table and platyrostral snout develop, we quantified embryonic development and post-hatching growth (ontogeny) of the crocodylian skull in lateral view using geometric morphometrics. Our dataset (n=103) includes all but one extant genus and all of the major ecomorphs, including the extremely slender-snouted Gavialis and Tomistoma. Our analysis reveals that the embryonic development of the flattened skull is remarkably similar across ecomorphs, including the presence of a conserved initial embryonic skull shape, similar to prior analysis of dorsal snout shape. Although differences during post-hatching ontogeny of the snout are recovered among ecomorphs the embryonic patterns are not distinct, revealing an important shift in developmental rate near hatching. In particular, the flattened skull table is achieved by the end of embryonic development with no changes after hatching. Further, the rotation of skull roof and facial bones during development is critical for the stereotypical flatness of the crocodylian skull. Our results suggest selection on hatchling performance and constraints on embryonic skull shape may have been important in this pattern of developmental conservation. The appearance of aspects of cranial flatness among Jurassic stem crocodylians suggests key aspects of these cranial developmental patterns may have been conserved for over 200 million years.

Usage notes

Extant Crocodylian Lateral Skull Landmarks

A ZIP file containing a folder of text files with the landmark positions for all specimens included in the analysis.

Covariates spreadsheet

CSV file containing covariate data associated with each specimen.


List of CT scan parameters

Table with scan parameters for all CT scans included in this analysis.



National Science Foundation, Award: DDIG 1701745

National Science Foundation, Award: EAR-PF 1952888