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Abstract

The otic region in the skull of archeocetes and odontocetes is compared and interpreted with special emphasis on the morphology and suspension of the ear bones. In archeocetes, the periotic was obviously separate from the mastoid but still integrated within the skull via a long anterior and posterior process. The rotation of the cochlear part of the periotic was already obvious. The tympanic bone was attached to a decreasing number of neighboring elements, with the periotic becoming more and more important in the later archeocetes. The accessory air sacs of the tympanic cavity had invaded some of the adjacent skeletal elements and attained a moderate-to-remarkable extension. In the evolution of the odontocetes, the periotic and tympanic were successively uncoupled from the skull and combined to a new morphological and functional unit (tympanoperiotic complex). This uncoupling was mainly achieved by shortening the periotical processes and simultaneously extending the tympanic air sacs. For functional reasons, however, the periotic (posterior process) stayed in immediate contact with the mastoid, the latter remaining in the lateral wall of the skull. In advanced marine dolphins, the bony sheaths of the accessory air sacs are largely reduced, presumably because of volume fluctuations in the tympanic cavity during diving. The perfect uncoupling of the ear bones from the skull obviously was an essential prerequisite for directional hearing, for effective ultrasound orientation and communication, and finally, for the striking development of the dolphin brain.