MIDDLE EAR STRUCTURES OFOCTODON DEGUS(RODENTIA: OCTODONTIDAE), IN COMPARISON WITH THOSE OF SUBTERRANEAN CAVIOMORPHS

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Abstract

By comparison with murine rodents such as rats, the middle ear structures of many subterranean mammals appear to be enlarged and thus adapted toward low-frequency sound transmission. However, comparison with closely related terrestrial outgroups has not always been undertaken, and apparent specializations in some cases might reflect phylogeny rather than habitat. Examination of the middle ear of the nonsubterranean degu (Octodon degus) under light microscopy revealed a septated middle ear cavity, a circular tympanic membrane lacking a pars flaccida, a malleus with elongated head, synostosed with the incus, a typically bicrurate stapes, and no stapedius muscle. Many of these features are shared with closely related, subterranean octodontoids in the genera Ctenomys (tuco-tucos) and Spalacopus (coruro). Caviomorph rodents in general share a very similar middle ear morphology, regardless of habitat, which suggests that sensitive low-frequency hearing is plesiomorphic for this group, rather than being specifically associated with a subterranean lifestyle.

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