Sunday, August 27, 2017

[PaleoMammalogy • 2017] Inermorostrum xenops • A Toothless Dwarf Dolphin (Odontoceti: Xenorophidae) Points to Explosive Feeding Diversification of Modern Whales (Neoceti)

Inermorostrum xenops
Boessenecker, Fraser, Churchill & Geisler, 2017


Toothed whales (Odontoceti) are adapted for catching prey underwater and possess some of the most derived feeding specializations of all mammals, including the loss of milk teeth (monophyodonty), high tooth count (polydonty), and the loss of discrete tooth classes (homodonty). Many extant odontocetes possess some combination of short, broad rostra, reduced tooth counts, fleshy lips, and enlarged hyoid bones—all adaptations for suction feeding upon fishes and squid. We report a new fossil odontocete from the Oligocene (approx. 30 Ma) of South Carolina (Inermorostrum xenops, gen. et sp. nov.) that possesses adaptations for suction feeding: toothlessness and a shortened rostrum (brevirostry). Enlarged foramina on the rostrum suggest the presence of enlarged lips or perhaps vibrissae. Phylogenetic analysis firmly places Inermorostrum within the Xenorophidae, an early diverging odontocete clade typified by long-snouted, heterodont dolphins. Inermorostrum is the earliest obligate suction feeder within the Odontoceti, a feeding mode that independently evolved several times within the clade. Analysis of macroevolutionary trends in rostral shape indicate stabilizing selection around an optimum rostral shape over the course of odontocete evolution, and a post-Eocene explosion in feeding morphology, heralding the diversity of feeding behaviour among modern Odontoceti.

KEYWORDS: Xenorophidae, Odontoceti, Neoceti, suction feeding, Oligocene

Etymology. The generic name is from the Latin inermus, meaning weapon-less or defenceless, and rostrum, meaning snout, referring to the absence of teeth in the rostrum. The species name derives from Greek for strangexeno, and faceops, referring to the highly derived facial morphology of the holotype.

Robert W. Boessenecker, Danielle Fraser, Morgan Churchill and Jonathan H. Geisler. 2017. A Toothless Dwarf Dolphin (Odontoceti: Xenorophidae) Points to Explosive Feeding Diversification of Modern Whales (Neoceti). Proceedings of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0531

This ancient dwarf dolphin may have slurped its food like a walrus