Petrosal anatomy in the fossil mammal Necrolestes: evidence for metatherian affinities and comparisons with the extant marsupial mole


Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra, Palaeontologisches Institut und Museum, Universität Zürich, Karl Schmid-Strasse 4, CH-8006 Zürich, Switzerland. E: m.sanchez[at]


We present reconstructions of petrosal anatomy based on high-resolution X-ray computed tomography scans for the fossil mammal Necrolestes and for the marsupial mole Notoryctes sp. Compared with other mammals, Necrolestes exhibits a mosaic of plesiomorphic and derived characters, but most of the evidence supports its metatherian status. We revised previous descriptions and report on features of phylogenetic or functional significance. Necrolestes exhibits features that support metatherian affinities, such as the presence of a short and lateral prootic canal, and the loss of the stapedial artery in adults. A deep groove at the anterior pole of the promontorium is present in front of the cochlear housing, a variant on the extrabullar pathway of the internal carotid artery. The promontorium is laterally bordered by a large bony projection resembling the eutherian tegmen tympani [De Beer GR (1937) The Development of the Vertebrate Skull, Oxford, Clarendon Press, p. 391]. Posteromedial to the secondary facial foramen and anterolateral to the fenestra vestibuli is a pronounced fossa for the tensor tympani muscle. On the medial part of the pars canalicularis there is a great inflation of the medial side of the caudal tympanic process, a structure of unknown function. The internal acoustic meatus exhibits a broad transverse septum and is bordered laterally by a broad prefacial commissure. The cochleae of Necrolestes and of Notoryctes have fewer spiral turns (1.1 and 1.6, respectively) than most marsupials. The lateral semicircular canal is more expanded than the posterior semicircular canal in Necrolestes but not in Notoryctes. Both Necrolestes and Notoryctes have a second crus commune, i.e. the lateral semicircular canal opens into the ampulla of the posterior semicircular canal. A stylomastoid foramen enclosed anterodorsally by both the pars cochlearis and pars canalicularis is present in Dasyuridae, Dromiciops gliroides and Notoryctes.