Transient role of the middle ear as a lower jaw support across mammals

Neal Anthwal, Jane Fenelon, Stephen Johnston, Marilyn Renfree, Abigail Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


Mammals articulate their jaws using a novel joint between the dentary and squamosal bones. In eutherian mammals, this joint forms in the embryo, supporting feeding and vocalisation from birth. In contrast, marsupials and monotremes exhibit extreme altriciality and are born before the bones of the novel mammalian jaw joint form. These mammals need to rely on other mechanisms to allow them to feed. Here we show that this vital function is carried out by the earlier developing, cartilaginous incus of the middle ear, abutting the cranial base to form a cranio-mandibular articulation. The nature of this articulation varies between monotremes and marsupials, with juvenile monotremes retaining a double articulation, similar to that of the fossil mammaliaform Morganucodon, while marsupials use a versican-rich matrix to stabilise the jaw against the cranial base. These findings provide novel insight into the evolution of mammals and the changing relationship between the jaw and ear.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere57860
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
Early online date30 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020


  • Echidna
  • Feeding
  • Hearing
  • Mammal evolution
  • Monotreme
  • Platypus


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