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An Otago researcher has added another piece to the puzzle of the evolution of modern baleen whales with a world-first study examining the teeth and enamel of baleen whales' ancestors.
Modern baleen whales have no teeth when adults, instead they use large keratin plates called baleen to filter prey from large volumes of seawater. However, millions of years ago their ancestors had teeth as most mammals do.
Author - Research - Journal - Mammalian - Evolution
Lead author of the research just published in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution, Dr. Carolina Loch from the Faculty of Dentistry, explains scientists are still trying to understand how and why this process happened. The research she carried out together with colleagues from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina, CONICET, and the Swedish Museum of Natural History has provided more information.
They studied details of the inside structure of the teeth of two fossil whales from around 35 million years ago. These teeth were collected in Antarctica by the Argentinian and Swedish study co-authors Monica Buono and Thomas Mörs. Because teeth are naturally heavily mineralised, they preserve well in the fossil record and can provide clues of how extinct animals lived.
Cover - Teeth—and - Dentine - Core - Part
"We looked at how the enamel—the hard outside cover of teeth—and dentine, the core 'living' part, were structured and how similar or different they were from teeth of living whales, other fossil whales and other mammals," Dr. Loch explains.
"Both fossil whales we analysed (basilosaurid and fossil mysticete) had a complex enamel layer with biomechanical structures that suggest they were capable of heavy shearing and processing of their prey," she says.
The enamel layer of...
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