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The balancing act of Nipponites mirabilis (Nostoceratidae, Ammonoidea): managing hydrostatics during a complex ontogenetic trajectory

By David J. Peterman, Tomoyuki Mikami, Shinya Inoue

Posted 11 Jun 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.11.145813

Nipponites is a heteromorph ammonoid with a complex and unique morphology that obscures its mode of life and ethology. The seemingly aberrant shell of this Late Cretaceous nostoceratid seems deleterious. However, hydrostatic simulations suggest that this morphology confers several advantages for exploiting a quasi-planktic mode of life. Virtual, 3D models of Nipponites mirabilis were used to compute various hydrostatic properties through 14 ontogenetic stages. At each stage, Nipponites had the capacity for neutral buoyancy and was not restricted to the seafloor. Throughout ontogeny, horizontally facing to upwardly facing soft body orientations were preferred. These orientations were aided by the obliquity of the shell’s ribs, which were parallel to former positions of the aperture during life. Static orientations were somewhat fixed, inferred by stability values that are slightly higher than extant Nautilus. The initial open-whorled, planispiral phase is well suited to horizontal backwards movement with little rocking. Nipponites then deviates from this coiling pattern with a series of alternating U-shaped bends in the shell. This modification allows for proficient rotation about the vertical axis, while possibly maintaining the option for horizontal backwards movement by redirecting its hyponome. These particular hydrostatic properties likely result in a tradeoff between hydrodynamic streamlining, suggesting that Nipponites assumed a low energy lifestyle of slowly pirouetting in search for planktic prey. Each computed hydrostatic property influences the others in some way, suggesting that Nipponites maintained a delicate hydrostatic balancing act throughout its ontogeny in order to facilitate this mode of life.

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