Three‐dimensional mobility and muscle attachments in the pectoral limb of the Triassic cynodont Massetognathus pascuali (Romer, 1967)


The musculoskeletal configuration of the mammalian pectoral limb has been heralded as a key anatomical feature leading to the adaptive radiation of mammals, but limb function in the non‐mammaliaform cynodont outgroup remains unresolved. Conflicting reconstructions of abducted and adducted posture are based on mutually incompatible interpretations of ambiguous osteology. We reconstruct the pectoral limb of the Triassic non‐mammaliaform cynodont Massetognathus pascuali in three dimensions, by combining skeletal morphology from micro‐computed tomography with muscle anatomy from an extended extant phylogenetic bracket. Conservative tests of maximum range of motion suggest a degree of girdle mobility, as well as substantial freedom at the shoulder and the elbow joints. The glenoid fossa supports a neutral pose in which the distal end of the humerus points 45° posterolaterally from the body wall, intermediate between classically ‘sprawling’ and ‘parasagittal’ limb postures. Massetognathus pascuali is reconstructed as having a near‐mammalian complement of shoulder muscles, including an incipient rotator cuff (m. subscapularis, m. infraspinatus, m. supraspinatus, and m. teres minor). Based on close inspection of the morphology of the glenoid fossa, we hypothesize a posture‐driven scenario for the evolution of the therian ball‐and‐socket shoulder joint. The musculoskeletal reconstruction presented here provides the anatomical scaffolding for more detailed examination of locomotor evolution in the precursors to mammals.

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