Archaeocete-like jaws in a baleen whale
Erich M. G. Fitzgerald1,2,*
1Museum Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia
2National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA
The titanic baleen whales (Cetacea, Mysticeti) have a bizarre skull morphology, including an elastic mandibular symphysis, which permits dynamic oral cavity expansion during bulk feeding. How this key innovation evolved from the sutured symphysis of archaeocetes has remained unclear. Now, mandibles of the Oligocene toothed mysticete Janjucetus hunderi show that basal mysticetes had an archaeocete-like sutured symphysis. This archaic morphology was paired with a wide rostrum typical of later-diverging baleen whales. This demonstrates that increased oral capacity via rostral widening preceded the evolution of mandibular innovations for filter feeding. Thus, the initial evolution of the mysticetes' unique cranial form and huge mouths was perhaps not linked to filtering plankton, but to enhancing suction feeding on individual prey.
Cetacea, Mysticeti, Mammalodontidae, evolution, Australia, Oligocene
Received July 6, 2011.
Accepted July 26, 2011.
This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society