The Evolution of Mammalian Characters


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Bibliographic Information

This is because it is continuous throughout life and there is no absolute adult size. In addition, this pattern of growth is associated with successive replacements of each tooth polyphyodonty providing an increased size and number of teeth concomitant with growth. In mammals, however, growth is described as determinate.

There is rapid growth in the juvenile ending in a mature adult size. Growth does not continue unabated and this unique characteristic of mammals is also associated with what is technically described as diphyodont tooth replacement. For example, as in humans, milk teeth are shed to be replaced once with a permanent adult dentition.

According to Kemp:. In other words, there is no fossil evidence for the emergence of determinate growth and diphyodonty until the first true mammal appears in the fossil record. This fact is omitted in Professor Prothero's article. In modern mammals, the turbinal bones inside the nasal cavity play an important role in endothermy. These very thin bones are covered in epithelium serving two functions, namely, chemoreception and an acute sense of smell and to warm and humidify air.

About I, Mammal

Turbinal bones have never been found in any mammal-like reptile although, in some cases, fine bony ridges could be sites of attachment for putative cartilaginous turbinals. In addition, the presence of a secondary palate in some synapsids might indicate endothermy although it is also present in modern crocodiles to assist a semi-aquatic lifestyle.

Osmoregulation and chemoregulation. Mammals are able to regulate their internal chemical environment which is achieved mainly by the ability of the kidney tubule to create hyperosmotic urine. By concentrating the urine, a mammal can use soluble urea as its prime nitrogen-excreting molecule without excessive water loss. This mechanism adjusts the balance between reabsorbtion and secretion and is under precise hormonal control to maintain plasma at optimal composition. The problem is summed up by Kemp as follows:. There is no doubt that the so-called synapsid transition leading to the emergence of mammals is regarded by neo-Darwinists as the best evidence that the fossil record has to offer.

Nevertheless, the speculations based upon fossil material cannot and do not begin to address the origin of the unique genetic, structural, biochemical and physiological characteristics that define all mammals. We suggest that teachers and students at least reflect upon these other fundamental aspects of mammalian life when considering the supposed emergence of mammals from the synapsids. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, non-mammalian synapsids were once regarded as true reptiles. Nevertheless, this is no longer the case. There are several reasons why these creatures are no longer considered reptiles although they are most often still described as such.

As we have indicated in this article, the reasons include the relative sizes of the dentary and post-dentary bones in the lower jaw and the type of teeth. In particular, it is suggested that the presence of a single temporal fenestra hole in the skull behind each eye is indicative of the mammalian condition. Living reptiles such as snakes and crocodiles are characterised by a diapsid situation which is the presence of two openings in the skull, namely, the lower and the upper temporal fenestrae.

We believe that the Professor has confused two terms here. In fact, he uses this term earlier in the book [pages and ] to describe such fish found in Silurian strata. To make matters worse, in the index of the book [page ], he also confuses "anaspid" with the term "anapsid". If this is the case, his description of the anapsida is totally misleading.

This is definitely not the case.


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Living examples of anapsid reptiles are the turtles, tortoises and terrapins. Examples of extinct reptiles with euryapsid skulls were the plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. As far as we know, there are no living examples. Likewise, as far as we know, there are no living examples of reptiles with synapsid skulls but that is not to say that they didn't exist. While the location of the fenestra is still visible in the mammalian skull, it is no longer an opening.

So what makes a reptile a reptile?

The Evolution of the First Mammals

If the decision is just based on the presence or absence of one or two skull fenestra, we have a variety of options; there are living and extinct reptiles that possess none, one or two. If it is based on the relative proportions of the dentary and post-dentary bones in the lower jaw, we also have a variety of options. Non-mammalian synapsids were represented by carnivorous and herbivorous species as were the dinosaurs. So why are pelycosaurs, for example, not reptiles? The answer to this problem seems to be the absolute necessity to identify mammalian ancestry within a Darwinian framework.

Search this site Truth in Science. Debate in America Archive How simple can life get? Marking the th Anniversary What price freedom? Origin Archive Was Darwin Right? These were once called "mammal-like reptiles", but that term is no longer used because synapsids are not reptiles - the two groups evolved in parallel from a common ancestor. Among the striking evolutionary changes occurring in the synapsids was in their lower jaws.

But mammals have only a single lower jawbone, the dentary. Throughout synapsid evolution, we see the gradual reduction of the non-dentary elements of the jaw as they are crowded towards the back and eventually lost. The dentary bone, in contrast, gets larger and takes over the entire jaw. In the final stage of evolution, the dentary bone expands until it makes direct contact with the skull and develops a new articulation with it. Most were lost, but the articular bone and the corresponding quadrate bone of the skull are now the malleus "hammer" and incus "anvil" bones in your middle ear.

This may seem bizarre until you realise that most reptiles hear with their lower jaws, transmitting sound from this to the middle ear through the jaw articulation. They had a mammal-like posture, a fully developed secondary palate, a large temporal opening for multiple sets of jaw muscles allowing complex chewing movements, and highly specialised molars and premolars for grinding and chewing. Some of them probably had hair. Many of the later species of cynodonts are so mammal-like that it has long been controversial as to where to draw the line between true mammals and the rest of the synapsids.

The oldest fossils that palaeontologists now agree are mammals come from the late Triassic.

Origin of general characters of mammals

They were shrew-sized, with a fully developed joint between the dentary bone and the skull, and three middle-ear bones. Thanks to the fossil record, we have a full picture of how they evolved from synapsids. An alternative view Furthermore, not every palaeontologist would agree with Professor Prothero's evolutionary assessment of the synapsid cranial morphology.

However, the fossil record makes the situation a good deal less clear cut [OEM page 1]. For example, pelycosaurs have very few mammalian characters, just a small temporal fenestra [a small opening usually covered with membrane] in the skull and an enlarged canine tooth in the jaw.

Characters deemed appropriate are those reflecting the evolution of the fundamental mammalian biology [emphasis added]. The essence of mammalian life is to be found in their endothermic [warm-blooded] temperature physiology, greatly enlarged brain, dentition capable of chewing food, highly agile, energetic locomotion, and so on. The organisms that achieved this grade of overall organisation are deemed to be Mammalia, and consequently those characters that they possess are the defining characters of the group [OEM page 2] Of these attributes, only certain skeletal characteristics can be presented as evidence from the fossil record, but as Kemp has already indicated there are many other significant features of mammals.


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The brain According to Kemp, there is little consensus about the evolution of the brain within the cynodonts, the most mammal-like of all the synapsids. This represents an overall increase of some four or more times the volume of basal amniote brains, and presumably involved the evolution of the neocortex, the complex, six layered surface of the cerebral hemispheres that is one of the most striking of all mammalian characters [OEM page ].

Growth and development The pattern of growth of amniotes other than mammals is described as indeterminate. The incisors, canines, and anterior postcanines are replaced once, and posterior postcanines are added sequentially at the back, not replaced, and therefore can properly be referred to as molar teeth.

Given its correlation with growth pattern, it is assumed by this stage that lactation had evolved [OEM page ]. Such a huge cost must be balanced by an equally large benefit for endothermy to have evolved and been maintained. Yet surprisingly there is no consensus about exactly how, why, or when endothermy evolved in the course of the evolution of the mammals.

The fact that the birds share a virtually identical mode of endothermic temperature physiology with the mammals adds little elucidation: the same contentious issues apply to them. The problem arises because of the complex nature of endothermy. It has two distinct primary functions in modern mammals, and it also involves a considerable array of structures and processes, including a regulating system for the high metabolic rate, variable conductivity of the skin by use of hair and cutaneous capillaries, neurological mechanisms for bringing about panting and shivering, and so on [OEM pages and ].

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Evolution of mammals

Synapsids were present in the Carboniferous Period about million to million years ago and are one of the earliest known reptilian groups. They were the dominant reptiles of the Permian Period million to million years ago , and, although they were primarily predaceous in habit, the adaptive radiation included herbivorous species as well. Therapsids tended to evolve a specialized heterodont dentition that is, a set of teeth separated into molars, incisors, and canines and to improve the mechanics of locomotion by bringing the plane of action of the limbs close to the trunk.

A secondary palate was developed, and the temporal musculature, the muscle involved in closing the jaw, was expanded. The several features that separate modern reptiles from modern mammals doubtless evolved at different rates. Many attributes of mammals are correlated with their highly active habit—for example, efficient double circulation with a completely four-chambered heart , anucleate and biconcave erythrocytes , the diaphragm , and the secondary palate which separates passages for food and air and allows breathing during mastication or suckling.

Hair for insulation is a correlate of endothermy , or warm-bloodedness , the physiological maintenance of individual temperature independent of environmental temperature.

Humans are mammals

Endothermy allows high levels of sustained activity. The unique characteristics of mammals thus would seem to have evolved as a complex interrelated system. Because the characteristics that separate reptiles and mammals evolved at different rates and in response to a variety of interrelated conditions, at any point in the period of transition from reptiles to mammals, there were forms that combined various characteristics of both groups. Such a pattern of evolution is termed mosaic and is a common phenomenon in those transitions marking the origin of major new adaptive types.

To simplify definitions and to allow the strict delimitation of the Mammalia, some authors have suggested basing the boundary on a single characteristic, the articulation of the jaw between the dentary and squamosal bones and the attendant movement of accessory jawbones to the middle ear as auditory ossicles.

The use of a single osteological character allows the placement in a logical classification of numerous fossil species, other mammalian characteristics of which, such as the degree of endothermy and nursing of young and the condition of the internal organs, probably never will be evaluated.

The Evolution of Mammalian Characters The Evolution of Mammalian Characters
The Evolution of Mammalian Characters The Evolution of Mammalian Characters
The Evolution of Mammalian Characters The Evolution of Mammalian Characters
The Evolution of Mammalian Characters The Evolution of Mammalian Characters
The Evolution of Mammalian Characters The Evolution of Mammalian Characters
The Evolution of Mammalian Characters The Evolution of Mammalian Characters

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