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Keywords:

  • phylogeny;
  • ontogeny;
  • marsupialia;
  • middle ear;
  • ossicles;
  • stapes

Abstract

This study is based on the examination of histological sections of specimens of different ages and of adult ossicles from macerated skulls representing a wide range of taxa and aims at addressing several issues concerning the evolution of the ear ossicles in marsupials. Three-dimensional reconstructions of the ear ossicles based on histological series were done for one or more stages of Monodelphis domestica, Caluromys philander, Sminthopsis virginiae, Trichosurus vulpecula, and Macropus rufogriseus. Several common trends were found. Portions of the ossicles that are phylogenetically older develop earlier than portions representing more recent evolutionary inventions (manubrium of the malleus, crus longum of the incus). The onset of endochondral ossification in the taxa in which this was examined followed the sequence; first malleus, then incus, and finally stapes. In M. domestica and C. philander at birth the yet precartilaginous ossicles form a supportive strut between the lower jaw and the braincase. The cartilage of Paauw develops relatively late in comparison with the ear ossicles and in close association to the tendon of the stapedial muscle. A feeble artery traverses the stapedial foramen of the stapes in the youngest stages of M. domestica, C. philander, and Sminthopsis virginiae examined. Presence of a large stapedial foramen is reconstructed in the groundplan of the Didelphidae and of Marsupialia. The stapedial foramen is absent in all adult caenolestids, dasyurids, Myrmecobius, Notoryctes, peramelids, vombatids, and phascolarctids. Pouch young of Perameles sp. and Dasyurus viverrinus show a bicrurate stapes with a sizeable stapedial foramen. Some didelphids examined to date show a double insertion of the Tensor tympani muscle. Some differences exist between M. domestica and C. philander in adult ossicle form, including the relative length of the incudal crus breve and of the stapes. Several differences exist between the malleus of didelphids and that of some phalangeriforms, the latter showing a short neck, absence of the lamina, and a ventrally directed manubrium. Hearing starts in M. domestica at an age in which the external auditory meatus has not yet fully developed, the ossicles are not fully ossified, and the middle ear space is partially filled with loose mesenchyme. The ontogenetic changes in hearing abilities in M. domestica between postnatal days 30 and 40 may be at least partially related to changes in middle ear structures. J. Morphol. 251:219–238, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.