Stylinodon may be a giant herbivorous mink

In 1873 
O. C. Marsh 1874) found an extinct Eocene (50.3 to 40.4 Ma) mammal “of great interest. The lower molar teeth, all essentially alike, and inserted in deep sockets” were the most striking feature. He named it Stylodon mirus (Figs. 1,2). All the teeth grew with “persistent pulps” and had a thin layer of enamel. The specimen was considered close to Toxodon with some edentate affinities (Marsh 1897). Stylinodon was placed under the family Stylinodontidae and the order Tillodontia. According to Schoch 1986 (first issue of JVP!) its ancestors were like Onychodectes.

Stylinodon mirus (Marsh 1874; middle Eocene, 45 mya; Figs. 1-2) was originally considered a taeniodont, perhaps derived from Onychodectes. Here it nests with Mustela, the living European mink, among the Carnivora. There were twice as many molars (4), each with a single root, as in the two double rooted molars of the mink. Large claws and certain forelimb traits indicate that Stylinodon was a digger, not a cursor.

The present nesting
of Stylinodon mirus (YPM VP 011095, Marsh 1874; Figs. 1, 2) in the Carnivora occurred when I realized it was a poor fit at the base of the Condylarthra/Paenungulata, despite its herbivorous dentition and tusk-like teeth (canines, not incisors).

Figure 1. Stylinodon skull. Note the transverse premaxilla, a trait of the Carnivora.

Figure 1. Stylinodon skull. Note the transverse premaxilla, a trait of the Carnivora.

Distinct from condylarths
Stylinodon has a transverse premaxilla, essentially invisible in lateral view. The lower canine is the anteriormost tooth on the dentary. These traits are shared with other members of the Carnivora. In the present taxon list Stylinodon shares more traits with Mustela, the European mink (Fig. 1) despite the loss of molar cusps and increase in size. They both were diggers. Together they nest with Phoca, the seal, and Palaeosinopa, the amphibious piscivore, all derived from a sister to Procyon, the omnivorous raccoon (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Stylinodon compared to Mustela, the European mink to scale.

Figure 2 Stylinodon compared to Mustela, the European mink to scale.

As in the earlier issue
with indricotheres, related taxa can have distinctively different types of teeth, one more reason to not weight dental traits too heavily, unless that’s all you have.

Figure 2. Mustela the European mink is an extant relative to Stylinodon.

Figure 3. Mustela the European mink is an extant relative to Stylinodon.

Mustela lutreola (Linneaus 1761; extant European mink; up to 43cm in length) is a fast and agile animal related to weasels and polecats. Mustela lives in a burrow, but it also swims and dives skilfully. It is able to run along stream beds, and stay underwater for one to two minutes. Mustela is derived from a sister to Phoca and other seals, all derived from a sister to Procyon. With this close relationship, Stylinodon (Fig. 2 a giant weasel with simple teeth.

Schoch and Lucas 1981
and Schoch 1983 considered Stylinodon and kin derived from a sister to the long-legged basal condylarth, Onychodectes. The large reptile tree (LRT, Fig. 2) does not support that nesting. Onychodectes has a long premaxilla lacking in taeniodonts.

Figure 2. Subset of the LRT showing the Carnivora nesting at the base of the Eutheria (placental mammals).

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT showing the Carnivora nesting at the base of the Eutheria (placental mammals).

Schoch and Lucas 1981
determined that Stylinodon had two upper incisors (one lower), a giant canine, four premolars and three molars, as in Onychodectes. That may be so, but the premolars and molars look alike.

 

Figure 6. Wortmania as drawn freehand by Schoch compared to bones Photoshopped together.

Figure 6. Wortmania as drawn freehand by Schoch compared to bones Photoshopped together.

Wortmania (Hay 1899, Williamson and Brusatte 2013; above) and Psittacotherium (Cope 1862; below) are related to Stylinodon. All are among the largest taxa in the early post-Cretaceous, derived from smaller weael-like basal mammals in the Cretaceous.

Figure 7. Psittacotherium in various views.

Figure 6.  Psittacotherium in various views. Overall it is elongated to more closely match related taxa.

It is rare but not unheard of
for members of the Carnivora to become omnivores and herbivores. Think of the giant panda and certain viverrids. Now the stylinodontid taeniodonts join their ranks.

References
Linneaus C von 1761. xxx
Marsh OC 1874. Notice of new Tertiary mammals 3. American Journal of Science. (3) 7i: 531-534.|
Marsh OC 1897. The Stylinodontia, a suborder of Eocene Edentates. The American Journal of Science Series 4 Vol. 3:137-146.
Rook DL and Hunter JP 2013. Rooting Around the Eutherian Family Tree: the Origin and Relations of the Taeniodonta. Journal of Mammalian Evolution: 1–17.
Schoch RM and Lucas SG 1981. The systematics of Stylinodon, an Eocene Taeniodont (Mammalia) from western North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 1(2):175-183.
Schoch RM 1983. Systematics, functional morphology and macroevolution of the extinct mammalian order Taeniodonta. Peabody Museum of Natural History Bulletin 42: 307pp. 60 figs. 65 pls.

 

 

 

wiki/Stylinodon
wiki/Mustela

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Stylinodon may be a giant herbivorous mink

  1. credulity: a tendency to be too ready to believe that something is real or true.
    You know, Dave, this is what the software recovered. I found it amazing, delightful and logical on hind sight. Suddenly it makes sense. Test it yourself! Anyone can. Everything is provisional, by the way, so if you come up with different results, please let me know.

    This is ‘taxon inclusion’ at its best… minimizing taxon exclusion gives taxa greater opportunities to nest correctly. 17 years after phylogenetic analysis nested pterosaurs apart from dinosaurs it’s STILL not widely accepted. Paleontology moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to things like this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s