Journal of Mammalian Evolution

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 517–543 | Cite as

Generalized Osteosclerotic Condition in the Skeleton of Nanophoca vitulinoides, a Dwarf Seal from the Miocene of Belgium

  • Leonard DewaeleEmail author
  • Olivier Lambert
  • Michel Laurin
  • Tim De Kock
  • Stephen Louwye
  • Vivian de Buffrénil
Original Paper


In the fossil record, it has been shown that various clades of secondarily aquatic tetrapods experienced an initial densification of their bones in the early stages of their evolution, and developed spongier and lighter bones only later in their evolution, with the acquisition of more efficient swimming modes. Although the inner bone structure of most secondarily aquatic tetrapods has already been studied, no research hitherto focused on true seals, or Phocidae. However, preliminary observations previously made on a Miocene species, Nanophoca vitulinoides, suggested that this taxon showed pronounced specialization of bone structure as compared to other seals. This feature justifies a specific comparative study, which is the purpose of this article. Microanatomical analysis of bones of N. vitulinoides shows compactness values nearing 100%, which is much higher than in other semi-aquatic mammals, pinnipeds included. Osteohistological analyses show virtually complete remodeling of the medullary territory by Haversian substitution. Extreme bone compactness locally resulted from an imbalance, towards reconstruction, of this process. Cortical regions were less intensely remodeled. In a number of specimens, the cortex shows clear growth marks as seasonal lines of arrested growth. The results suggest that, despite the extreme compactness of long bones of N. vitulinoides and the small size of this taxon, the growth rate of the cortex, and that of the bones in general, did not differ strongly from that of other, larger phocids. Extreme skeletal compaction and densification must have increased body density in Nanophoca. Consequently, speed, acceleration, and maneuverability must have been low, and this taxon was most likely a near-shore bottom-dwelling seal. Consequently, dietary preferences were most likely oriented towards benthic food sources.


Neogene Phocidae Nanophoca vitulinoides Osteohistology Microanatomy Osteosclerosis 



The research presented in this study is in partial fulfillment of the PhD research of LD, conducted at Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium, and in collaboration with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium. This PhD research is funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) through an FWO PhD Fellowship to LD. This research is also partly funded by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s 2016 Steven Cohen Award for Excellent Student Research, awarded to LD. TDK holds a postdoctoral Fellowship at the FWO.

We also want to thank S Bruaux, C Cousin, and A Folie from the RBINS for providing access to the collections. We thank R Fraaije and N Peters from the Oertijdmuseum Groene Poort, Boxtel, Netherlands, for allowing access to the holotypes of Batavipusa neerlandica and Praepusa boeska. We are grateful to M Bosselaers for donating specimens from his private collection for the elaboration of thin sections. Special thanks to JR Wible (editor-in-chief), RW Boessenecker (reviewer) and A Houssaye (reviewer) for helpful comments that improved the quality of this work.

Supplementary material

10914_2018_9438_MOESM1_ESM.docx (32 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 31 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vakgroep GeologieUniversiteit GentGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Directorate “Earth and History of Life”Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de BelgiqueBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.Département Origines et EvolutionMuséum National d’Histoire NaturelleParisFrance
  4. 4.PProGRess, Vakgroep GeologieUniversiteit GentGhentBelgium

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