Author's note: these pages were written some years ago. I am not planning to update them. For a more current coverage, see the link to palaeos com Palaeos website (to which many links on these pages point to anyway. More info here


    Glossary of Vertebrate Paleontology terms





    acetebulum n., abbrev. ac the socket on the hip into which the head of the femur fits


    alveoli n., in plesiosauria the socket that the tooth sits in. In some marine reptiles it’s a groove but in most it is an actual socket.


    amphicoelous adj. describes vertebrae in which the front and back of the centrum are concave. A feature of dinosaur vertebrae that were not supposed to move very much relative to one another


    anteroposteriorly adj., an anatomical term for the front part of a bone or organ in the back.  For example; The leading edge of a phalange number five is the front edge of the last finger bone in the paddle of a plesiosaur. This term is used a great deal but is far too arbitrary as it could be made to refer to anything.that is in a skeleton or on any organ. You can use it to reference what layer of skin lays in relation to another. So the last layer of epithelial cells has a leading edge to the last layer so that back edge becomes anterioposterior to the side that follows.  Because of the confusion and arbitrariness the term is better off being discarded; it is only included here as a refernece for when it appears in quoted material.


    anterior adj. the front of the body, the head or in the direction of the head


    antorbital fenestra n., abbrev. aof fenestration in front of the orbit; a unique distinguishing feature of the Archosaurs


    appendicular skeleton n. the forelimbs, shoulders, hindlimbs and hip bones


    axial skeleton n. the spine, including tail, and ribs


    basicranium n. the underside of the skull not including the palate; the base of the braincase and the back of the throat. This region is made up of irregularly shaped bones whose names end in "sphenoid" and which are generally fused together into a solid unit


    basioccipital n. lower margin of the braincase, at the back of the skull


    carpus n., abbrev. CS the section of the forefoot between the metacarpus and the wrist joint.  carpal adj., abbrev. cl describes a bone of the carpus (carpals are sometimes called "wrist bones")


    caudal adj. pertaining to the tail.


    caudal vertebrae n., pl.  the vertebrae of the tail


    centrum n., pl. centra, abbrev.cent the large, round spool-like cebntral part of a vertebra - illustration


    cervical adj. of the neck. For example, the vertebrae of the neck are called cervical vertebrae


    cervical ribs n. ribs coming off the neck vertebrae


    cervical ribs double-headed -  A rib from the neck that has two points of attachment to the vertebra.


    cervical ribs single-headed - A rib from the neck that has one point of attachment to the vertebra.


    cheek - the side of the skull in most animals


    choana n., pl. chonae the opening between the nasal cavity and the pharynx


    coracoid n., abbrev. co semicircular bone attached to the front of the scapula


    cranial adj. pertaining to the skull.


    dentary bone n., abbrev. d bone in the mandible


    digit n. the finger or toe


    distal adj. describes a feature anatomically located farther away from, or in the direction away from, the central part of the body or point of attachment or origin. Usually used in the description of limb bones. For example, the ankle is distal of the knee


    dorsal adj. a top-down perspective, looking at the back, pertaining to teh back or upper side of an animal.  Opposite to ventral


    epipodials n. the lower leg or arm bone - the fibula and tibia or ulna and radius


    femur n. - the upper leg bone, the thigh bone


    fenestra n., pl. fenestrae an opening, such as a hole.  In reptile skulls the pattern of fenestrae is useful in classification


    “The fifth (V) metapodial has shifted proximally to the distal  mesapodial row” means that the first bone of the  phalange (finger) at the far end of the paddle from the head had shifted upwards to the last row of the wrist bones or mesopodials.  See illustration


    foramen n., pl. foramina an opening, such as a hole, generally smaller than a fenestra


    gastralia n. abdominal, or belly, ribs, generally not attached to the spine or thoracic ribs


    glenoid adj. describes the pocket formed by the scapula and coracoid into which the forearm inserts


    humerus n., abbrev. h the upper forearm or foreleg bone, the "funny bone"


    hyperphalangy v. - the tendency to increase the number of joints (phalanges) in teh digits (fingers and toes)


    ilium n., abbrev. il top hip bone to which the sacral vertebrae attach


    integument n. the skin and the structures associated with it, including nails, claws, hooves, scales and feathers


    ischium n., abbrev. is rear hip bone


    lacrimal bone n., abbrev. l cheek bone immediately in front of the orbit - illustration


    lateral adj. in the direction away from, or farther from, a midline bisecting the animal. e.g. the limbs


    longitudinal adj. running length-wise, paralel to the main axis - e.g. teeth longitudinal ridges on teeth are ridges or furrows that run down the length of the tooth


    mandible n. all the bones of the lower jaw


    mandibular fenestra n., abbrev. mdf lower jaw fenestration


    mandibular symphysis n.,  the point in the lower jaw where to two halves meet in the chin. Sometimes it is fused but in most fossil specimens it detaches so the mandibles are found in right and left halves.


    manus n. the forefoot or hand


    maxillary bone n., abbrev. mx one of the upper jaw bones, at the side of the skull - the main (usually toothbearing) bone of the upper jaw, posterior to the premaxilla - illustration


    medial adj. in the direction of, or closer to, a midline bisecting the animal.  The opposite of distal


    median line n. the line along the middle of the body, e.g. where two paired skull or hip or shoulder bones meet.


    mesopodials n.  the ankle or wrist bone - fibulare, intermedium, and tibiale or ulnare, intermedium, and radiale, and all 1,2,3,4 centralia; See illustration


    metacarpus n., abbrev. MC the section of the forefoot between the phalanges and the carpus; in humans, the long bones of the hand.  metacarpal n., abbrev. mc describes a bone of the metacarpus


    metapodials n. - the fingers or toes - all phalanges I, II, III, IV, V; See illustration


    metatarsus n., abbrev. MT the section of the hindfoot between the phalanges and the tarsus; in humans, the long bones of the foot.  metatarsal adj. abbrev. mt describes a bone of the metatarsus


    naris, nares n. the nostrils, or the external opening in the skull of the nasal cavity


    nasal bone n., plural nasals abbrev. na paired skull bones at the upper front, adjacent the nostril - illustration


    neural arch n., abbrev. na the opening in a vertebra through which the spinal cord passes - illustration


    neural spine n., abbrev. sp the large spike or ridge of bone that rises above the top of a vertebra to which the muscles and tendons for raising the neck attach - illustration


    occipital condyle n.., ball-like knob at back of skull that provides an attatchment for the first vertebra


    orbit n., abbrev. o the eye socket, the opening in the skull for the eye


    osteoderm n. any bone or armour plate imbedded in the skin, usually for protection and display


    palate n. - the roof of the mouth


    parietal bone n., abbrev. par paired bones at the back of the roof of the skull - surround the pineal opening ("3rd eye")  - illustration


    pelvis n. one of the bones of the hip


    pes n., pl. pedes the hind-foot


    phalanges n, (sing. phalanx) abbrev. phx a bone in a digit of a foot; a bone in a finger or toe


    postcranian. (generally incmplete) elemnts of the postcranial skeleton


    postcranial skeleton n. all of the skeleton except the skull


    posterior adj. behind; closer to or in the direction of the rear or tail.  See also caudal.


    postorbital bone n., abbrev. po cheek bone immediately behind the orbit  - illustration


    predentary bone n., abbrev. pd mandible bone, unique to Ornithischian Dinosaurs, just in front of the dentary bone in the lower jaw


    prefrontal bone n., abbrev. prf skull bone in front of the orbit - illustration


    premaxillary bone n., abbrev. pmx skull bone just forward of the maxillary in the front of the upper jaw - upper jaw tip, the most anterior bone of the upper jaw - illustration


    procoelous adj. describes vertebrae in which the front of the centrum is concave and the rear of the centrum  is convex -- so that the rear of the vertebra fits into the next vertebra behind like a ball-and-socket joint - illustration


    propodials: n. the upper leg or arm bone - femur or humerus; See illustration


    proximal adj. describes a feature anatomically located closer to, or in the direction of, the central part of the body or point of attachment or origin. Usually used in the description of limb bones.


    pubis n., abbrev. pu the hip bone, the forward hip bone


    quadrate bone n., abbrev. q cheek bone at the rear of the skull  - illustration


    quadratojugal bone n., abbrev. qj cheek bone at the lower rear of the skull  - illustration


    radius n. abbrev. ra the inner bone (closer to the trunk) of the foreleg/forearm


    ramus n., Bot., Zool., Anat. a branch, as of a plant, vein, bone, etc.


    sacrum n., sacral adj. the part of the backbone attached to the pelvis, usually formed by the fusion of two or more vertebrae


    sacral vertebrae n., those vertebrae attached to the pelvis


    scapula n., abbrev. sc the shoulder blade

    scapulocoracoid n. bone formed by the fusion of the scapula and coracoid


    sclerotic plate n., abbrev. scl bone on the eyeball that provides a strong attachment point for muscles. Typical of animals that rely heavily on vision (e.g. link to palaeos com birds, link to palaeos com ichthyosaurs). sclerotic ring n. ring of sclerotic plates that supports the eyeball


    squamosal bone n., abbrev. sq skull bone behind the orbit, towards the raer of the skull - illustration


    sternum n. the breast bone, in the front of the chest.  In birds, the two sternal plates are fused solidly together into a relatively huge, keeled breastbone that serves to anchor the pectoral muscles that work the wings


    tarsal adj., abbrev. tl a bone of the tarsus, ankle bones


    tarsus n., abbrev. TS ankle, the section of the hindfoot between the metatarsus and the ankle joint


    temporal fenestra n. opening in the skull in the temple area.  Generally reptiles are classified by the position and number of temporal fenestrae


    ulna n. abbrev. ul the outermost bone of the foreleg/forearm


    ungual adj. describes the last, outermost bone of the manual (hand - finger) or pedal (foot - toe) digit. Often forms the core of a claw


    ventral adj. position of or near to or pertaining to the belly or underside of an animal.  Opposite to dorsal


    “Ventral rami of the scapula” means the projecting part of the shoulder blade that is raised  toward the
    belly side of the animal. So it refers to the raised parts from the scapula’s flat blade.


    vertebra n., pl. vertebrae backbone, a bone of the spine - illustration


    based in part on the external linkAnatomical Dictionary by Jeff Poling.  Additional material by external linkBarry Kazmer


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    page history

    uploaded 12 August 1999