A Digital Endocranial Cast of the Early Paleocene (Puercan) ‘Archaic’ Mammal Onychodectes tisonensis (Eutheria: Taeniodonta)

James G. Napoli, Thomas E. Williamson, Sarah Shelley, Stephen Brusatte

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Eutherian mammals—placentals and their closest extinct relatives—underwent a major radiation following the end-Cretaceous extinction, during which they evolved disparate anatomy and established new terrestrial ecosystems. Much about the timing, pace, and causes of this radiation remain unclear, in large part because we still know very little about the anatomy, phylogenetic relationships, and biology of the so-called ‘archaic’ eutherians that prospered during the ~10 million years after the extinction. We describe the first digital endocranial cast of a taeniodont, a bizarre group of eutherians that flourished in the early Paleogene, reconstructed from a computed tomography (CT) scan of a late Puercan (65.4 million year old) specimen of Onychodectes tisonensis that recovered most of the forebrain and midbrain and portions of the inner ear. Notable features of the endocast include long, broad olfactory bulbs, dorsally-positioned rhinal fissures, and a lissencephalic cerebrum. Comparison with other taxa shows that Onychodectes possessed some of the largest olfactory bulbs (relative to cerebral size) of any known mammal. Statistical analysis of modern mammals shows that relative olfactory bulb dimensions are not strongly correlated with body size or fossorial digging for shelter, but relative bulb width is significantly greater in taxa that habitually dig to forage for food. The anatomical description and statistical results allow us to present an ecological model for Onychodectes and similar taeniodonts, in which they are animals of simple behavior that rely on a strong sense of smell to locate buried food before extracting and processing it with their specialized skeletal anatomy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Mammalian Evolution
Early online date7 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Mar 2017


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