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Keywords:

  • Artiodactyla;
  • bony labyrinth;
  • computed tomography;
  • Eocene;
  • Moschiola ;
  • Tragulidae

Abstract

We provide the first detailed description of the inner ear of the oldest artiodactyl, Diacodexis, based on a three-dimensional reconstruction extracted from computed tomography imagery of a skull of Diacodexis ilicis of earliest Wasatchian age (ca. 55 Ma). This description provides new anatomical data for the earliest artiodactyls, and reveals that the bony labyrinth of Diacodexis differs greatly from that of modern artiodactyls described so far. The bony labyrinth of Diacodexis presents a weakly coiled cochlea (720 °), a secondary common crus, a dorsal extension of the anterior semicircular canal more pronounced than that of the posterior one, and a small angle between the basal turn of the bony cochlear canal and the lateral semicircular canal. This suite of characters also occurs in basal eutherian mammals. Diacodexis strongly resembles small living tragulid ruminants in its overall body shape and hindlimb proportions. Comparison of the bony labyrinth of Diacodexis to that of the tragulid Moschiola meminna (Indian mouse deer) reveals great morphological difference in cochlear shape and semicircular canal disposition. The shape of the cochlea suggests that Diacodexis was a high-frequency hearing specialist, with a high low-frequency hearing limit (543 Hz at 60 dB). By comparison, the estimated low-frequency limit of Moschiola meminna is much lower (186.0 Hz at 60 dB). We also assess the locomotor agility of Diacodexis based on measurements of the semicircular canals. Locomotor agility estimates for Diacodexis range between 3.62 and 3.93, and suggest a degree of agility compatible with a nimble, fast running to jumping animal. These results are congruent with the postcranial functional analysis for this extinct taxon.