Virtual endocranial and inner ear endocasts of the Paleocene ‘condylarth’ Chriacus: New insight into the neurosensory system and evolution of early placental mammals

Ornella Bertrand, Sarah L. Shelley, John R. Wible, Thomas E. Williamson, Luke T. Holbrook, Stephen G. B. Chester, Ian Butler, Stephen Brusatte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The end‐Cretaceous mass extinction allowed placental mammals to diversify ecologically and taxonomically as they filled ecological niches once occupied by non‐avian dinosaurs and more basal mammals. Little is known, however, about how the neurosensory systems of mammals changed after the extinction, and what role these systems played in mammalian diversification. We here use high‐resolution computed tomography (CT) scanning to describe the endocranial and inner ear endocasts of two species, Chriacus pelvidens and Chriacus baldwini, which belong to a cluster of ‘archaic’ placental mammals called ‘arctocyonid condylarths’ that thrived during the ca. 10 million years after the extinction (the Paleocene Epoch), but whose relationships to extant placentals are poorly understood. The endocasts provide new insight into the paleobiology of the long‐mysterious ‘arctocyonids’, and suggest that Chriacus was an animal with an encephalization quotient (EQ) range of 0.12–0.41, which probably relied more on its sense of smell than vision, because the olfactory bulbs are proportionally large but the neocortex and petrosal lobules are less developed. Agility scores, estimated from the dimensions of the semicircular canals of the inner ear, indicate that Chriacus was slow to moderately agile, and its hearing capabilities, estimated from cochlear dimensions, suggest similarities with the extant aardvark. Chriacus shares many brain features with other Paleocene mammals, such as a small lissencephalic brain, large olfactory bulbs and small petrosal lobules, which are likely plesiomorphic for Placentalia. The inner ear of Chriacus also shares derived characteristics of the elliptical and spherical recesses with extinct species that belong to Euungulata, the extant placental group that includes artiodactyls and perissodactyls. This lends key evidence to the hypothesized close relationship between Chriacus and the extant ungulate groups, and demonstrates that neurosensory features can provide important insight into both the paleobiology and relationships of early placental mammals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-49
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number1
Early online date30 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Oct 2019


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