Digital reconstruction of the inner ear of Leptictidium auderiense (Leptictida, Mammalia) and North American leptictids reveals new insight into leptictidan locomotor agility

Irina Ruf, Virginie Volpato, Kenneth D. Rose, Guillaume Billet, Christian de Muizon, Thomas Lehmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Abstract: Leptictida are basal Paleocene to Oligocene eutherians from Europe and North America comprising species with highly specialized postcranial features including elongated hind limbs. Among them, the European Leptictidium was probably a bipedal runner or jumper. Because the semicircular canals of the inner ear are involved in detecting angular acceleration of the head, their morphometry can be used as a proxy to elucidate the agility in fossil mammals. Here we provide the first insight into inner ear anatomy and morphometry of Leptictida based on high-resolution computed tomography of a new specimen of Leptictidium auderiense from the middle Eocene Messel Pit (Germany) and specimens of the North American Leptictis and Palaeictops. The general morphology of the bony labyrinth reveals several plesiomorphic mammalian features, such as a secondary crus commune. Leptictidium is derived from the leptictidan groundplan in lacking the secondary bony lamina and having proportionally larger semicircular canals than the leptictids under study. Our estimations reveal that Leptictidium was a very agile animal with agility score values (4.6 and 5.5, respectively) comparable to Macroscelidea and extant bipedal saltatory placentals. Leptictis and Palaeictops have lower agility scores (3.4 to 4.1), which correspond to the more generalized types of locomotion (e.g., terrestrial, cursorial) of most extant mammals. In contrast, the angular velocity magnitude predicted from semicircular canal angles supports a conflicting pattern of agility among leptictidans, but the significance of these differences might be challenged when more is known about intraspecific variation and the pattern of semicircular canal angles in non-primate mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-171
Number of pages19
JournalPalaontologische Zeitschrift
Volume90
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

Keywords

  • Bony labyrinth
  • Inner ear
  • Leptictida
  • Leptictidium
  • Locomotion
  • Semicircular canals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Palaeontology

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