Non-pathological densification (osteosclerosis) and swelling (pachyostosis) of bones are the main modifications affecting the skeleton of land vertebrates (tetrapods) that returned to water. However, a precise temporal calibration of the acquisition of such adaptations is still wanting. Here, we assess the timing of such acquisition using the aquatic sloth Thalassocnus, from the Neogene of the Pisco Formation, Peru. This genus is represented by five species occurring in successive vertebrate-bearing horizons of distinct ages. It yields the most detailed data about the gradual acquisition of aquatic adaptations among tetrapods, in displaying increasing osteosclerosis and pachyostosis through time. Such modifications, reflecting a shift in the habitat from terrestrial to aquatic, occurred over a short geological time span (ca 4 Myr). Otherwise, the bones of terrestrial pilosans (sloths and anteaters) are much more compact than the mean mammalian condition, which suggests that the osteosclerosis of Thalassocnus may represent an exaptation.
Macrostomatan snakes, one of the most diverse extant clades of squamates, display an impressive arsenal of cranial features to consume a vast array of preys. In the absence of indisputable fossil representatives of this clade with well-preserved skulls, the mode and timing of these extraordinary morphological novelties remain obscure. Here, we report the discovery of Kataria anisodonta n. gen. n. sp., a macrostomatan snake recovered in the Early Palaeocene locality of Tiupampa, Bolivia. The holotype consists of a partial, minute skull that exhibits a combination of booid and caenophidian characters, being the presence of an anisodont dentition and diastema in the maxilla the most distinctive trait. Phylogenetic analysis places Kataria basal to the Caenophidia+Tropidophiidae, and represents along with bolyeriids a distinctive clade of derived macrostomatans. The discovery of Kataria highlights the morphological diversity in the maxilla among derived macrostomatans, demonstrating the relevance of maxillary transformations in the evolution of this clade. Kataria represents the oldest macrostomatan skull recovered, revealing that the diversification of macrostomatans was well under way in early Tertiary times. This record also reinforces the importance of Gondwanan territories in the history of snakes, not only in the origin of the entire group but also in the evolution of ingroup clades.
The cingulates of the mammalian order Xenarthra present a typical case of disagreement between molecular and morphological phylogenetic studies. We report here the discovery of two new skulls from the Late Oligocene Salla Beds of Bolivia (approx. 26 Ma), which are the oldest known well-preserved cranial remains of the group. A new taxon is described: Kuntinaru boliviensis gen. et sp. nov. A phylogenetic analysis clusters K. boliviensis together with the armadillo subfamily Tolypeutinae. These skulls document an early spotty occurrence for the Tolypeutinae at 26 Ma, in agreement with the temporal predictions of previous molecular studies. The fossil record of tolypeutines is now characterized by a unique occurrence in the Late Oligocene, and a subsequent 12 Myr lack in the fossil record. It is noteworthy that the tolypeutines remain decidedly marginal in the Late Palaeogene and Early Neogene deposits, whereas other cingulate groups diversify. Also, the anatomical phylogenetic analysis herein, which includes K. boliviensis, is congruent with recent molecular phylogenetic analyses. Kuntinaru boliviensis is the oldest confident calibration point available for the whole Cingulata.
The vast majority of Mesozoic and early Cenozoic metatherian mammals (extinct relatives of modern marsupials) are known only from partial jaws or isolated teeth, which give insight into their probable diets and phylogenetic relationships but little else. The few skulls known are generally crushed, incomplete or both, and associated postcranial material is extremely rare. Here we report the discovery of an exceptionally large number of almost undistorted, nearly complete skulls and skeletons of a stem-metatherian, Pucadelphys andinus, in the early Palaeocene epoch of Tiupampa in Bolivia. These give an unprecedented glimpse into early metatherian morphology, evolutionary relationships and, especially, ecology. The remains of 35 individuals have been collected, with 22 of these represented by nearly complete skulls and associated postcrania. These individuals were probably buried in a single catastrophic event, and so almost certainly belong to the same population. The preservation of multiple adult, sub-adult and juvenile individuals in close proximity (<1?m(2)) is indicative of gregarious social behaviour or at least a high degree of social tolerance and frequent interaction. Such behaviour is unknown in living didelphids, which are highly solitary and have been regarded, perhaps wrongly, as the most generalized living marsupials. The Tiupampan P.?andinus population also exhibits strong sexual dimorphism, which, in combination with gregariousness, suggests strong male-male competition and polygyny. Our study shows that social interactions occurred in metatherians as early as the basal Palaeocene and that solitary behaviour may not be plesiomorphic for Metatheria as a whole.
The modern giant sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus, one of the largest known predators, preys upon cephalopods at great depths. Lacking a functional upper dentition, it relies on suction for catching its prey; in contrast, several smaller Miocene sperm whales (Physeteroidea) have been interpreted as raptorial (versus suction) feeders, analogous to the modern killer whale Orcinus orca. Whereas very large physeteroid teeth have been discovered in various Miocene localities, associated diagnostic cranial remains have not been found so far. Here we report the discovery of a new giant sperm whale from the Middle Miocene of Peru (approximately 12-13 million years ago), Leviathan melvillei, described on the basis of a skull with teeth and mandible. With a 3-m-long head, very large upper and lower teeth (maximum diameter and length of 12 cm and greater than 36 cm, respectively), robust jaws and a temporal fossa considerably larger than in Physeter, this stem physeteroid represents one of the largest raptorial predators and, to our knowledge, the biggest tetrapod bite ever found. The appearance of gigantic raptorial sperm whales in the fossil record coincides with a phase of diversification and size-range increase of the baleen-bearing mysticetes in the Miocene. We propose that Leviathan fed mostly on high-energy content medium-size baleen whales. As a top predator, together with the contemporaneous giant shark Carcharocles megalodon, it probably had a profound impact on the structuring of Miocene marine communities. The development of a vast supracranial basin in Leviathan, extending on the rostrum as in Physeter, might indicate the presence of an enlarged spermaceti organ in the former that is not associated with deep diving or obligatory suction feeding.
We report the discovery of mammalian tribosphenic teeth from the basal Cenomanian of southwestern France that we refer to a new primitive marsupial-like form identified as a basal taxon of Marsupialiformes, a new clade recognized here to include the crown group Marsupialia and primitive stem lineages more closely related to Marsupialia than to Deltatheroida. Arcantiodelphys marchandi gen et sp nov. shares several significant marsupial-like features (s.l.) with marsupialiform taxa known from the North American Mid-Cretaceous. Among marsupialiforms, it shows a closer resemblance to Dakotadens. This resemblance, which is plesiomorphic within "tribotherians," makes Arcantiodelphys one of the most archaic known Marsupialiformes. Moreover, Arcantiodelphys is characterized by an original and precocious crushing specialization. Both the plesiomorphic and autapomorphic characteristics of Arcantiodelphys among Marsupialiformes might be explained by an Eastern origin from Asian stem metatherians, with some in situ European evolution. In addition, the presence of a mammal with North American affinities in western Europe during the early Late Cretaceous provides further evidence of a large Euramerican biogeographical province at this age or slightly before. Concerning the paleobiogeographical history of the first stem marsupialiforms during the Albian-Cenomanian interval, 2 possible dispersal routes from an Asian metatherian ancestry can be proposed: Asia to Europe via North America and Asia to North America via Europe. The main significance of the Archingeay-Les Nouillers mammal discovery is that it indicates that the beginning of the stem marsupialiforms history involved not only North America but also Europe, and that this early history in Europe remains virtually unknown.
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