The middle and inner ears of the Palaeogene golden mole Namachloris: a comparison with extant species

31 Jan 2018

Many living species of golden moles (Chrysochloridae) have greatly enlarged middle ear ossicles, believed to be used in the detection of ground vibrations through inertial bone conduction. Other unusual features of chrysochlorids include internally-coupled middle ear cavities and the loss of the tensor tympani muscle. Our understanding of the evolutionary history of these characteristics has been limited by the paucity of fossil evidence. In this paper, we describe for the first time the exquisitely-preserved middle and inner ears of Namachloris arenatans from the Palaeogene of Namibia, visualised using computed tomography, as well as ossicles attributed to this species. We compare the auditory region of this fossil golden mole, which evidently did not possess a hypertrophied malleus, to those of three extant species with similarly-sized ear ossicles, Amblysomus hottentotus, Calcochloris obtusirostris and Huetia leucorhinus. The auditory region of Namachloris shares many common features with the living species, including a pneumatized, trabeculated basicranium and lateral skull wall, arteries and nerves of the middle ear contained in bony tubes, a highly coiled cochlea, a secondary crus commune and no identifiable canaliculus cochleae for the perilymphatic duct. However, Namachloris differs from extant golden moles in the apparent absence of a basicranial intercommunication between the right and left ears, the possession of a tensor tympani muscle and aspects of ossicular morphology. One Namachloris skull showed what may be pneumatization of some of the dorsal cranial bones, extending right around the brain. Although the ossicles are small in absolute terms, one of the Huetia leucorhinus specimens had a more prominent malleus head than the other. This potentially represents a previously-unrecognised subspecific difference.