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Comparative masticatory myology in anteaters and its implications for interpreting morphological convergence in myrmecophagous placentals

Abstract : Background Ecological adaptations of mammals are reflected in the morphological diversity of their feeding apparatus, which includes differences in tooth crown morphologies, variation in snout size, or changes in muscles of the feeding apparatus. The adaptability of their feeding apparatus allowed them to optimize resource exploitation in a wide range of habitats. The combination of computer-assisted X-ray microtomography (µ-CT) with contrast-enhancing staining protocols has bolstered the reconstruction of three-dimensional (3D) models of muscles. This new approach allows for accurate descriptions of muscular anatomy, as well as the quick measurement of muscle volumes and fiber orientation. Ant- and termite-eating (myrmecophagy) represents a case of extreme feeding specialization, which is usually accompanied by tooth reduction or complete tooth loss, snout elongation, acquisition of a long vermiform tongue, and loss of the zygomatic arch. Many of these traits evolved independently in distantly-related mammalian lineages. Previous reports on South American anteaters (Vermilingua) have shown major changes in the masticatory, intermandibular, and lingual muscular apparatus. These changes have been related to a functional shift in the role of upper and lower jaws in the evolutionary context of their complete loss of teeth and masticatory ability. Methods We used an iodine staining solution (I2KI) to perform contrast-enhanced µ-CT scanning on heads of the pygmy (Cyclopes didactylus), collared (Tamandua tetradactyla) and giant (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) anteaters. We reconstructed the musculature of the feeding apparatus of the three extant anteater genera using 3D reconstructions complemented with classical dissections of the specimens. We performed a description of the musculature of the feeding apparatus in the two morphologically divergent vermilinguan families (Myrmecophagidae and Cyclopedidae) and compared it to the association of morphological features found in other myrmecophagous placentals. Results We found that pygmy anteaters (Cyclopes) present a relatively larger and architecturally complex temporal musculature than that of collared (Tamandua) and giant (Myrmecophaga) anteaters, but shows a reduced masseter musculature, including the loss of the deep masseter. The loss of this muscle concurs with the loss of the jugal bone in Cyclopedidae. We show that anteaters, pangolins, and aardvarks present distinct anatomies despite morphological and ecological convergences.
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Sérgio Ferreira-Cardoso, Pierre-Henri Fabre, Benoit de Thoisy, Frédéric Delsuc, Lionel Hautier. Comparative masticatory myology in anteaters and its implications for interpreting morphological convergence in myrmecophagous placentals. PeerJ, PeerJ, 2020, 8, pp.e9690. ⟨10.7717/peerj.9690⟩. ⟨hal-02994322⟩



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