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Keywords:

  • odontocete skin;
  • cutaneous ridges;
  • surface ridges;
  • dermal ridges;
  • tactile sensing;
  • hydrodynamics

Abstract

Cutaneous ridges are present at the surface of the skin in many odontocetes, and although often quite faint, may be observed with the naked eye. We have taken surface impressions and measured the ridges of individuals of seven odontocete species, and observed cutaneous ridges on three additional species. In the delphinids and the one Physeter neonate studied, spatial periods of the ridges varied from 0.4 mm–1.7 mm and trough-to-peak heights from less rhan 10μm to about 60μm. Two Delphinapterus (monodontids) had ridges significantly larger than the Physeter and most delphinids, with spatial periods of 1.9–2.4 mm and heights 80–120 μm. We found the ridges distributed over much of the surface of the body, but relatively faint or absent on most of the head, the control surfaces, and the ventral region in some species. In all of the animals we observed, the ridges ran in an approximately circumferential direction around the body trunk rostral to the dorsal fin or mid-body area, but varied somewhat in direction in the caudal region and in other isolated areas. While the function of the cutaneous ridges has not been established, we speculate that they may play some role in tactile sensing, in the hydrodynamic characteristics of an animal, or both.