Llanocetus: not a ‘baleen whale with teeth and gums’

Hailed in the popular press
(see below) as a ‘baleen whale with teeth and gums’, Llanocetus denticrenatus (Mitchell 1989; Fordyce and Marx 2018; 8m in estimated length; 34 mya), nests in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1320 taxa) with archaeocete (toothed) whales, not with mysticetes (baleen whales).

Fordyce and Marx described Llanocetus
from a virtually complete skull (Fig. 1) as “the second oldest mysticete known.” Their phylogenetic analysis nested Llanocetus with Mystacodon, which they describe as “the oldest mysticete,” but earlier the LRT nested it with archaeocete toothed whales, too.

Figure 1. Llanocetus, hailed as a baleen whale with teeth and gums, is just a large archaeocete.

Figure 1. Llanocetus, hailed as a baleen whale with teeth and gums, is just a large archaeocete.

According to Fordyce and Marx, “The broad rostrum has widely spaced teeth marked with dental abrasion and attrition, suggesting biting and occlusal shearing.” Such traits are unexpected in a filter-feeder.

Figure 1. (above) Zygorhiza kochi from George Mason University website, likely captured from Kellogg 1936.

Figure 2. (above) Zygorhiza kochi from George Mason University website, likely captured from Kellogg 1936. To make the jaws fit and teeth occlude the mandible had to be reduced and the cranium had to tilted down posteriorly.

Fordyce and Marx attempt to force-fit their new taxon into the Mysticeti
when they report, “As in extant mysticetes, the palate bears many sulci, commonly interpreted as osteological correlates of baleen. Unexpectedly, these sulci converge on the upper alveoli, suggesting a peri-dental blood supply to well-developed gums, rather than to inter-alveolar racks of baleen. We interpret Llanocetus as a raptorial or suction feeder, revealing that whales evolved gigantism well before the emergence of filter feeding.”

No mention of desmostylians here…

Figure 1. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.

Figure 3. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale. It is worthwhile noting the similarities shown between Cetotherium and Ilanocetus. Such convergences are the source of Fordyce and Marx’s hypotheses.

Fordyce and Marx conclude in their abstract,
“This scenario differs strikingly from that proposed for odontocetes, whose defining adaptation-echolocation-was present even in their earliest representatives.” 

Unfortunately,
the authorse have no idea that those ‘earliest representatives’ of odontocetes are represented today by tenrecs that also echo-locate and travel in pods, as we learned earlier here.

Once again,
taxon exclusion is to blame for the earlier mistakes. Fordyce and Marx refuse to test desmostylians in their analyses, similar to pterosaur workers who refuse to test tritosaur lepidosaurs, and turtle workers who refuse to test small horned pareiasaurs. That’s why the wide gamut taxon list of the LRT comes in so handy. You don’t have to guess or force-fit any taxa… just let the software and the taxon list do your work for you.

No wonder whale workers are not letting
my papers on whale, turtle and pterosaur origins be published. 

References
Fordyce RE and Marx FG 2018. Gigantism precedes filter feeding in baleen whale evolution. Current Biology 28(10):1670–1676.

wiki/Llanocetus

https://www.techtimes.com/articles/227549/20180512/34-million-year-old-skull-from-antarctica-reveals-baleen-whales-had-teeth-and-gums.htm

SVP 2018: Where to nest and what is the Anagalidae?

López-Torres and Fostowicz-Frelik seek to understand
the phylogenetic position of the Anagalidae, “an enigmatic and poorly studied group of primitive members of Euarchontoglires known from the Palaeogene of China.” 

On the other hand
this clade is well understood in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1311 taxa, subset Fig. 3). The genus Anagale (Fig. 1) is basal to Andrewsarchus, tenrecs and odontocetes, taxa notably missing from traditional lists (see below). Taxon inclusion is the key to understanding this and all other tetrapod clades.

First of all, some traditional clade members:

  1. Traditional Euarchontoglires = rodents, lagomorphs (rabbits) treeshrews, colugos and primates.
  2. Traditional Anagalidae = elephant shrews, rodents and lagomorphs.
  3. Traditional Anagaloidea = also includes Zalambdalestes (a Solenodon (clade = Glires) sister in the LRT).

None of these groupings
are recovered in the LRT (which is genus to specimen-based).

Figure 1. Anagale nests at the base of the tenrec - odontocete clade, not with rabbits, in the LRT.

Figure 1. Anagale nests at the base of the tenrec – odontocete clade, not with rabbits, in the LRT.

All prior clade memberships suffer from taxon exclusion.
Anagale (Figs, 1, 2) itself nests at the base of the tenrec – odontocete clade (Fig. 2) a hypothesis first recovered in the LRT.

Where Anagale and kin nest in the LRT:

  1. Anagalidae = Anagale (Fig. 2), some but not all elephant shrews, tenrecs, pakicetids, toothed whales and their kin. In other words, this is the tenrec-odontocete clade.
Figure 1. Odontoceti (toothed whale) origin and evolution. Here Anagale, Andrewsarchus, Sinonyx, Hemicentetes, Tenrec Indohyus and Leptictidium precede Pakicetus. Maiacetus and Orcinus are aquatic odontocetes.

Figure 2. Odontoceti (toothed whale) origin and evolution. Here Anagale, Andrewsarchus, Sinonyx, Hemicentetes, Tenrec Indohyus and Leptictidium precede Pakicetus. Maiacetus and Orcinus are aquatic odontocetes.

López-Torres and Fostowicz-Frelik 2018 report:
“Anagalids were originally suggested to be closely related to modern treeshrews, lagomorphs, some primitive eutherian groups such as zalambdalestids and pseudictopids, and Macroscelidae (within the broader concept of ‘Anagalida’), but that idea was later rejected, especially with growing evidence of molecular relationships among major mammalian clades and the generally accepted monophyly of Glires. Our study presents a new, more comprehensive phylogenetic analysis based on 190 dental characters.”

Figure 5. Subset of the LRT focusing on the tenrec/odontocete clade with several whales added.

Figure 5. Subset of the LRT focusing on the tenrec/odontocete clade with several whales added.

Dental characters only???
Yikes. The authors continue: “The resulting strict consensus tree (based on 76 equally-parsimonious trees) disagrees with the previous conception of anagalid monophyly. Instead, anagalids are heavily paraphyletic, appearing as several offshoots at the base of Glires, which suggests that anagalids could be considered stem Glires.” 

The LRT is nearly fully resolved and anagalids are not stem Glires.
They are the sisters to Glires. Add these relevant taxa (Fig. 2) and let us know if your tree recovers the same tree topology.

These authors need to expand their taxon and character lists.
Contra tradition, Anagale and kin have little to do with rodents or rabbits. Add taxa. Let the taxa nest where they want to. Don’t limit the taxon list. Soon this clade will be well understood, no longer an enigma.

References
López-Torres S and Fostowicz-Frelik L 2018. The phylogenetic position of the Anagalidae within Euarchontoglires and its implication for the evolution of Glires and Euarchonta. SVP abstract.

wiki/Euarchontoglires
wiki/Anagaloidea

SVP 2018: Tooth loss in mysticete whales x5 abstracts

Five SVP abstracts
fumble with the issue of tooth loss preceding the origin of mysticete whales under the invalid assumption that the traditional clade Cetacea is monophyletic. It is not. Whales had two or three (right whales make it three) separate origins, as we learned earlier here.

ABSTRACT 1
Ekdale and Deméré 2018
continue beating a dead horse trying to figure out how Aetiocetus evolved into the clade Mysticeti (Figs. 1-4). In the large reptile tree (LRT, 1038 taxa) mysticetes evolved from desmostylians (Fig. 2-4) while being tested against all prior candidate taxa. Odontocetes evolved from tenrecs, pakicetids and archaeocetids (Fig. 1). Ekdale and Deméré 2018 mistakenly (through taxon exclusion) consider the toothed Aetiocetus a member of the traditional ‘toothed mysticetes’ that they mistakenly think “plays a central role in the debate.”

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the odontocetes and their ancestors.
Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the odontocetes and their ancestors.

The authors conclude:
“These results provide critical evidence that the lateral palatal foramina in A. weltoni are
homologous with lateral nutrient foramina in extant mysticetes. As such, the lateral nutrient
foramina in A. weltoni provide strong support for the hypothesis that aetiocetids possessed both teeth and some form of baleen.”
 Unfortunately the authors saw what they wanted to see. They never tested tenrecs or desmostylians and so failed to recover the correct phylogenetic framework upon which their work could proceed. Maybe a similar CT scan will find similar nerve and blood vessel patterns in desmostyians. Only testing will reveal what the cladogram indicates.

Figure 1. Subset of the LRT focusing on the mesonyx/mysticete clade showing the split between right whales and all other mysticetes.
Figure 2. Subset of the LRT focusing on the mesonyx/mysticete clade showing the split between right whales and all other mysticetes.

ABSTRACT 2
Gatesy et al. 2018 reassess “phylogenetic studies presented over the past dozen years that have variously reconstructed this complex evolutionary sequence. Early work proposed a step-wise transformation in which toothed mysticetes transitioned via ‘intermediate’ forms with both teeth and baleen to toothless filter feeders. Later studies presented alternative scenarios featuring filtration with teeth instead of baleen, loss of a functional dentition before the evolution of baleen, pure suction feeding, and/or convergent evolution of several key mysticete features. We reanalyzed published cladistic matrices in the context of extensive new molecular data, assessed character support for alternative relationships, and mapped six features related to filter feeding in Mysticeti: presence/absence of 1) teeth, 2) baleen, 3) lateral nutrient foramina on the palate (possible osteological correlates of baleen), 4) a broad rostrum, 5) laterally bowed mandibles, and 6) an unsutured mandibular symphysis.”

All for naught.
They could have and should have run a wide gamut phylogenetic analysis like the LRT which separates the ancestors of odontocetes from the ancestors of mysticetes by a wide phylogenetic distance of intervening taxa (Figs. 1, 2). The ancestors of mysticetes are not to be found among the ancestors of odontocetes. This has been online for two years now.

ABSTRACT 3
Geisler, Beatty and Boessnecker 2018
discuss, to no avail, new specimens of Coronodon havensteini, which they say is the most basal mysticete (in the absence of desmostylians and kin) and the LRT nests at the base of the odontocetes and aetiocetes. Surprisingly, the authors report, these specimens support the hypothesis that Coronodon engaged in macrophagy and filter feeding, and underscores the challenges for reconstructing the behaviors of extinct species based on the limited sample provided by the fossil record.” No they have evidence for macrophagy and they have contrived a scenario for filter feeding. 

Figure 1. Taxa in the lineage of the right whale (Eubalaena) include the pygmy right whale (Caperea) and the desmostylian, Desmostylus.
Figure 3. Taxa in the lineage of the right whale (Eubalaena) include the pygmy right whale (Caperea) and the desmostylian, Desmostylus. You don’t have to look for tooth loss in desmostylians. They already have that trait and so many more.

ABSTRACT 4
Lanzetti, Berta and Ekdale 2018
looked at fetal mysticetes and reported, “We present new evidence on the ontogeny of the minke whale, which develops a dense tissue dorsal to the rostral canal where the tooth buds are either already absent or clearly undergoing resorption. The identity of this tissue should be confirmed by histological analysis, but it may be the first sign of baleen development, as posited by previous studies of these species. Overall, the GM analyses show that the fossils occupy a different morphospace than modern species, possibly indicating that they had specific feeding adaptations not shared by modern mysticetes.”
Clearly they are not looking at desmostylians, which loose most of their teeth in adults.

Figure 1. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.
Figure 41. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.

ABSTRACT 5
Peredo 2018
thinks tooth loss precedes the origin of baleen in mysticetes by considering an Early Oligocene specimen from Oregon. In his thinking Peredo, like the authors above, is barking up the wrong tree when he reports, “Although living baleen whales are born without teeth, paleontological and embryological evidence demonstrate that they evolved from toothed ancestors that lacked baleen entirely.” However his specimen might be a desmostylian in the lineage of mysticetes when he reports, “This new material includes a transitional fossil mysticete that lacks both teeth and baleen entirely, demonstrating that tooth loss precedes the origin of baleen in mysticetes.”

A toothy Oregon taxon, Salishicetus, was described by Peredo and Pyenson 2018, who nested it basal to other aetiocetids. They reported, “The description of Salishicetus resolves phylogenetic relationships among aetiocetids, which provides a basis for reconstructing ancestral feeding morphology along the stem leading to crown Mysticeti.”

References
Ekdale EG and Deméré TA 2018. Tooth-to-baleen transition in mysticetes: New CT evidence of vascular structures on the palate of Aetiocetus weltoni (Mysticeti, Cetacea). SVP abstract.
Gatesy et al. (4 co-authors) 2018. Contrasting interpretations of the teeth to baleen transition in mysticete cetaceans. SVP abstract.
Geisler J, Beatty BL and Boessenecker RW 2018. New specimens of Coronodon havensteini provide insights into the transition from raptorial to filter feeding in whales. SVP abstract.
Lanzetti A, Berta A and Ekdale EG 2018. Looking at fossils in a new light: teeth to baleen transition in relation to the ontogeny and phylogeny of baleen whales. SVP abstract.
Peredo CM 2018. From teeth to baleen: Tooth loss precedes the origin of baleen in whales. SVP abstracts.
Peredo CM and Pyenson ND 2018. Salishicetus meadi, a new aetiocetid from the late Oligocene of Washington State and implications for feeding transitions in early mysticete evolution. Royal Society Open Science 5: 172336. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.172336

Coronodon: another wannabe mysticete ancestor

Geisler et al. 2017
presented Coronodon as a recent addition to the panoply of toothed whales said to be ancestral to mysticetes. Taxon exclusion is once again the problem. The real ancestors of mysticetes (Fig. 3) are mesonychids, hippos, anthracobunids and desmostylians, as we learned earlier. These taxa were not tested by Geisler et al. 2017.

Figure 1. Coronodon, was originally considered a toothed mysticete, but only in the absence of desmostylians, the real ancestors of mysticetes.

Figure 1. Coronodon, was originally considered a toothed mysticete, but only in the absence of desmostylians, the real ancestors of mysticetes. This taxon lies at the base of Odontoceti and Aetioceti in the LRT.

Coronodon havensteini (Geisler et al., 2017; early Oligocene, 30 mya) was originally and is traditionally considered a mysticete whale, basal to baleen whales like Balaenoptera. With more tested taxa here it nests basal to odontocete whales like Aetiocetus and Physeter. The archaeocete teeth were considered the first stage in filter-feeding. Here they are relics from an archaeocete ancestry. Descendants in both branches (aetiocetes, odontocetes) both have simple peg teeth.

Figure 2. The nesting of Eocene Andrewsiphius basal to extant tenrecs between leptictids and pakicetids.

Figure 2. The nesting of Eocene Andrewsiphius basal to extant tenrecs between leptictids and pakicetids.

The LRT ancestors to mysticetes
are shown below:

Figure 1. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale.

Figure 3. Rorqual evolution from desmostylians, Neoparadoxia, the RBCM specimen of Behemotops, Miocaperea, Eschrichtius and Cetotherium, not to scale. Key post-crania is missing here, but the skulls tell the tale.

References
Geisler JH; Boessenecker RW; Brown M; Beatty BL 2017. The origin of filter feeding in whales. Current Biology. 27 (13): 2036–2042.e2. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.06.003

wiki/Aetiocetus
wiki/Coronodon

Monodon: THE weirdest skull of all mammals

Today two blogposts are published
because they relate strongly to one another. Here is the post on torsioned tenrec/odontocete skulls.

Figure 1. Distinct from most narwhals, this skull also has right tusk emerging from the canine position. And yes, that's the maxilla covering most of the skull, even above the orbit! I added an eyeball here to help locate the orbit. The mesethmoid is the red bone that divides the naris (blow hole).

Figure 1. Distinct from most narwhals, this skull also has right tusk emerging from the canine position. And yes, that’s the maxilla covering most of the skull, even above the orbit! I added an eyeball here to help locate the orbit. The mesethmoid is the red bone that divides the naris (blow hole).

The narwhal (genus Monodon, Fig. 1)
is famous for having one giant spiral tooth sticking out ahead of its skull. Monodon also has one of the most bizarre skulls of all mammals and departs from that of all tetrapods, partly due to the root of the tooth and partly due to the migration of the nares to the back of the skull. Except for its tips, the jugal is missing. The maxilla, lacks teeth (if you don’t count the tusk) and rather than extending below the orbit, extends over the forehead, following the naris on its migration to the back of the skull. The bulbous portion of the skull, the cranium is made of parietals in most mammals, but the parietals are greatly reduced, nearly absent in Monodon.

Figure 2. The beluga, Delphinapterus, is closely related to, though less derived than the narwhal, Monodon. More teeth of a regular shape were present in the jaws. Those two yellow arrows indicate a misalignment of the centerline of the top of the occiput vs. the bottom. Compare to figure 3.

Figure 2. The beluga, Delphinapterus, is closely related to, though less derived than the narwhal, Monodon. More teeth of a regular shape were present in the jaws. Those two yellow arrows indicate a misalignment of the centerline of the top of the occiput vs. the bottom. Compare to figure 3. The mesethmoid is the red bone in the blow hole. This skull is also bent left, as in the narwhal.

The sister taxon of the narwhal
is the beluga (genus: Delphinapterus). It helps one understand the narwhal a bit better. At least the beluga has a few traditional teeth. These two taxa nest together in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1087 taxa, Fig. 4).

Figure 3. Chonecetus has a more primitive skull with nares closer to the snout tip and no maxilla above the orbit.

Figure 3. Chonecetus has a more primitive skull with nares closer to the snout tip and no maxilla above the orbit. Not a transitional taxon to baleen whales, which have another separate origin. This drawing lacks any indication of torsion, perhaps because the back half was separated from the front half and the artist ‘repaired’ the twist.

Less derived and more primitive
is Chonecetus (Fig. 3), which has nares closer to the snout tip, and more teeth, and more cranium. This taxon and its sister, Aetiocetus, have been traditionally considered transitional from toothed whales to baleen whales, like Balaenoptera, but baleen whales have an entirely separate ancestry derived from desmostylians, like Desmostylus.

Figure 5. Subset of the LRT focusing on the tenrec/odontocete clade with several whales added.

Figure 4. Subset of the LRT focusing on the tenrec/odontocete clade with several whales added.

A recent paper on Monodon tusks (Nweeia et al. 2012)
found “the narwhal tusks are the expression of canine teeth and that vestigial teeth have no apparent functional characteristics and are following a pattern consistent with evolutionary obsolescence.” (See Figs. 5, 6).

Figure 4. Image from Nweeia et al. 2012 showing the unerupted right tusk and the root of the left tusk in the male narwhal along with two unerupted tusks in the female.

Figure 5. Image from Nweeia et al. 2012 showing the unerupted right tusk and the root of the left tusk in the male narwhal along with two unerupted tusks in the female. Note the angle of the posterior skull relative to the anterior midline.

In dorsal or ventral view
it is clear that the the tusk (left) side of the skull is longer than the right side due to angling the posterior skull relative to the rostrum.

Figure 6. CT scans of a female narwhal (Monodon) showing soft tissues and unerupted teeth. Note the angle of the posterior skull relative to the anterior.

Figure 6. CT scans of a female narwhal (Monodon) showing soft tissues and unerupted teeth. Note the angle of the posterior skull relative to the anterior. The left side, the tusk side, is shorter than the right side in figure 5, so the label ‘ventral’ is an error here. This is a dorsal view of the female skull in figure 5. Always test scale bars and labels.

I wonder about the bending of the skull
toward the left in these two whales. Could asymmetry have anything to do with stereo auditory senses? Asymmetry is also found in owl skulls, another taxon that depends strongly on acute hearing for locating prey.

Figure 7. Fetal narwhal skull, here colorized from Nweenia et al. 2012. The jugal disappears in adults.

Figure 7. Fetal narwhal skull, here colorized from Nweenia et al. 2012. The jugal disappears in adults. The asymmetry is already apparent here.

Figure 8. Common bottle nose dolphin skull (genus: Tursiops) also displays a bit of asymmetry in dorsal view.

Figure 8. Common bottle nose dolphin skull (genus: Tursiops) also displays a bit of asymmetry in dorsal view. Note the yellow arrows on the parietal showing the wee bit of torsion here. 

Update:
With 1187 taxa and 231 traits full resolution was recovered in the LRT after running PAUP FOR 16 minutes and 15 seconds. The single best tree has 16,329 steps.

References
Linnaeus C 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.’
Nweeia MT et al. (9 co-authors) 2012. Vestigial tooth anatomy and tusk nomenclature for Monodon monoceros. The Anatomical Record 295:1006–1016.
Pallas PS 1766. Miscellanea Zoologica.

wiki/Narwhal
wiki/Beluga_whale

Torsioned odontocete skulls go back to tenrecs

Today two blogposts are published
because they relate strongly to one another. Shortly there will be a post on Monodon, the narwhal, which introduced me to whale skull asymmetry, which I then researched and found the following study from 2011.

Figure 1. Skull asymmetry in odontocete whales from Fahlke et al. 2011.

Figure 1. Skull asymmetry in odontocete whales from Fahlke et al. 2011.

A paper by Fahlke et al. 2011 reported,
“Eocene archaeocete whales gave rise to all modern toothed and baleen whales (Odontoceti and Mysticeti) during or near the Eocene-Oligocene transition. Odontocetes have asymmetrical skulls, with asymmetry linked to high-frequency sound production and echolocation.” 

This is not true
when more taxa are added to a phylogenetic analysis looking at whales. Archaeocetes are not basal to baleen whales (Mysticeti) in the LRT.

Figure 1. Skull asymmetry in odontocete whales from Fahlke et al. 2011.

Figure 2. Hemicentetes an extant echolocating tenrec, also has a twisted skull, like its descendants, the odontocete whales. The direction is opposite in this image. Could be a result of the scanning technique (mirroring the image) or a real trait.

Fahlke et al. did not look at tenrecs,
which nest basal to archaeocetes and pakicetids in the large reptile tree (LRT, 1187 taxa). Hemicentetes (Fig. 2) echolocates (Gould 1965) and travels in pods — and it has a torsioned skull (Fig. 2). Baleen whales (mysticetes) had a separate ancestry with desmostylians, apart from archaeocetes.

A torsioned skull further cements tenrecs to archaeocetes and odontocetes. Fahlke et al. did not look at desmostylians either.

Taxa basal to tenrecs
in the LRT, like the elephant shrew, Rhynchocyon, do not have a torsioned skull. So that trait originated with a sister to Hemicentetes.

In an interview, Fahlke reported, 
“This means that the initial asymmetry in whales is not related to echolocation,” said Fahlke, who is working with Philip Gingerich, an internationally recognized authority on whale evolution, at the U-M Museum of Paleontology.

Oh, yes, asymmetry is related to echolocation!
Expand that taxon list to tenrecs, read Gould (1965) and everything will fall into place. The origin of echolocation in the ancestors of whales goes back to the mid-Cretaceous, based on the separation of Madagascar (where tenrecs live) from Pakistan and India (where whale ancestors like the tenrec, Indohyus) are found.

Fahlke’s backstory from the U. of Michigan webpage:
“The actual skull on which the model was based was noticeably asymmetrical, but Fahlke and colleagues at first dismissed the irregularity.

“We thought, like everybody else before us, that this might have happened during burial and fossilization,” Fahlke said. “Under pressure from sediments, fossils oftentimes deform.” To correct for the deformation, coauthor Aaron Wood, a former U-M postdoctoral researcher who is now at the University of Florida, straightened out the skull in the digital model. But when Fahlke began working with the “corrected” model, the jaws just didn’t fit together right. Frustrated, she stared at a cast of the actual skull, puzzling over the problem.

“Finally it dawned on me: Maybe archaeocete skulls really were asymmetrical,” Fahlke said. She didn’t have to go far to explore that idea; the U-M Museum of Paleontology houses one of the world’s largest and most complete archaeocete fossil collections. Fahlke began examining archaeocete skulls, and to her astonishment, “they all showed the same kind of asymmetry?a leftward bend when you look at them from the top down,” she said.”

References
Fahlke JM,  Gingerich PD, Welsh RC and Wood AR. 2011. Cranial asymmetry in Eocene archaeocete whales and the evolution of directional hearing in water. PNAS 108 (35) 14545-14548; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1108927108
Gould E 1965. Evidence for Echolocation in the Tenrecidae of Madagascar
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 109 (6): 352-360. online here.

https://pterosaurheresies.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/tenrecs-and-echolocation/

U of Michigan story on the Fahlke team’s discovery here

Mystacodon: See how far they’ll go to ‘find’ a mysticete ancestor

According to Wikipedia
Mystacodon (Lambert et al. 2017) is a genus of toothed mysticete from the Late Eocene Yumaque Formation of Peru. It is the earliest known member of the Mysticeti, and the second confirmed Eocene mysticete.” Here (Fig. 1) you can compare it to the smaller and more primitive (because it has a bigger pelvis) Maiacetus, to scale. Mystacodon is no mysticete. It’s what a tenrec/odontocete becomes when it gets good at swimming, but not as good as Zeuglodon, which has an even smaller pelvis. We looked at the origin of mysticetes among desmostylians earlier here, here and here. It was first reported here, last October, perhaps too late for the manuscript submission publishing schedule. Even so, whale experts have omitted, overlooked or ignored desmostylians in their quest for mysticete ancestors, and this is what happens.

This is what happens with taxon exclusion.
You get a ‘by default’ nesting, like nesting turtles and Vancleavea with archosaurs or Tetraceratops with therapsids. It also reminds me of when David Hone and Sterling Nesbitt bent over backward to find a mandibular fenestra and an antorbital fossa on pterosaurs in a desperate attempt to prove an invalid hypothesis.

FIgure 1. This toothy whale with a tiny pelvis is Mystcodon, originally promoted as the earliest known mysticete (baleen whale).

FIgure 1. My, what big teeth you have! This toothy whale with a tiny pelvis is Mystcodon, originally promoted as the earliest known mysticete (baleen whale). Note the size and placement of the teeth matching Maiacetus.

And the whale authors got all the publicity they wanted
in this Guardian article with illustrations. Here is a quote from the article:

“Fossil hunters say they have unearthed a missing link in the evolution of baleen whales after digging up the remains of a creature thought to have lived more than 36 million years ago.

The whales, known as mysticeti, sport a bristling collection of sieve-like plates known as baleen that they use to filter water for food. Species include the enormous blue whale, the gray whale and the humpback whale.

But while baleen whales are known to have shared a common ancestor with toothed whales, which are the other major group of modern whales, the path by which the creatures emerged has been somewhat hazily understood. Now researchers say they have discovered the oldest known cousin of modern baleen whales, offering unprecedented insights into their evolution.

“This [split in the family tree] has been dated to about 38 or 39m years ago,” said Olivier Lambert, co-author of the research from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. “The whale we discovered here has been dated to 36.4 [million years ago], so it is only two to three million years younger than this presumed origin.”

From Nature.com:
“This is the fossil that we’ve been waiting for,” says Nick Pyenson, a palaeontologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. 

“To determine where M. selenensis fit in the whale family tree, the researchers compared characteristics such as the shape of its skull and pelvic bone to those of other fossil whales. The creature’s flat snout resembles that of modern baleen whales. But its pelvic bone fit more with ancestral whales, complete with areas where the leg bones would typically slot in, says Lambert. “So, we think that this animal still had tiny legs protruding from the body.”

“Lambert and his colleagues think that M. selenensis might have sucked up its prey from the ocean floor. This wasn’t unusual, however, because baleen-whale ancestors around that time sported a wide variety of dental and feeding mechanisms. “There’s big toothed things, there’s little toothed things and there’s toothless things, all at once,” says Uhen. But by around 23 million years ago, all the whales in this group had baleen, and “all these toothy things go away”, he says.”

Mystacodon has a wide flat triangular rostrum…
so does Physeter, the sperm whale (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Physeter (sperm whale) skull. Note the low, flat, triangular toothless rostrum.

Figure 3. Physeter (sperm whale) skull. Note the low, flat, triangular toothless rostrum.

Workers:
Examine all possible candidates. Don’t exclude relevant taxa. Mystacodon sheds no light on the origin of baleen whales—but it does shed light on the origin of odontocetes.

References
Lambert, O. et al. (seven co-authors) 2017. Earliest Mysticete from the Late Eocene of Peru Sheds New Light on the Origin of Baleen Whales. Current Biology 27:1535–1541.e2 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.04.026.

 

Sperm whales have faces, too!

Figure 1. This image comes from a news story on whale strandings and the contents of their stomachs. But I see two distinct faces here, like humans, chimps and other mammals with distinctive coloration patterns and variations on morphology.

Figure 1. This image comes from a news story on whale strandings and the contents of their stomachs. But I see two distinct faces here, like humans, chimps and other mammals with distinctive coloration patterns and variations on morphology.

Humans have distinct faces.
So do chimps, dogs, cows, other mammals and animals in general. We just have to see two in close proximity (as in Fig. 1) to notice the slight variation that Nature puts on pod mates and/or family members. This minor variation, of course, is the engine by which large variation can add up in isolation to produce new species, whether larger or smaller, more robust or more gracile, shorter, longer, with longer or shorter limbs, longer or shorter faces. The variations are endless, but patterns can be gleaned in phylogenetic analysis.

Look closely
and you’ll see the profile of these two beached whales are slightly different, the flippers are slightly different, to say nothing of the variations on the white patches and scars that they are partly born with and then develop during their lifespan as white scars.

Just think,
this odontocete is derived from swimming tenrecs, derived from basal placentals, derived cynondonts, etc. etc. all due to subtle variations in family members like you see here, over vast stretches of time and millions of generations.