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Prof. Flower's Hunterian Lectures on the Relation of Extinct to Existing Mammalia1

Nature volume 13, pages 487488 | Download Citation

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VII.

THE Carnivora, as existing at the present day, form a natural group, though very sharply divided into two distinct sections, the Pinniped or aquatic, and the Fissi-ped or terrestrial forms. The former include the Seals, Walrus, and Otarice or Sea-lions. They differ from the terrestrial carnivora chiefly in modifications of their limbs to suit a semi-aquatic life. In their dentition they also present striking distinctions. Though they have the small incisors, large, pointed, recurved canines, and more or less trenchant molars characteristic of the order; the incisors depart from the typical number of three above and three below on each side, so constant in the other division, being always less numerous, and the molars are simple and uniform in character, never having one tooth differentiated as the sectorial, and others as tubercular molars. The walrus offers a most remarkable modification of dental organisation, which, being unaccompanied by any other deviation from the general structure of the group affords an important caution against placing too great reliance in classification upon characters derived from teeth alone. It must, however, be noted that a knowledge of the complete dentition of this animal in its early stages shows a nearer conformation to the general type than appears at first sight in an examination of the adult. The existing species of Pinnipedia show some gradational forms between the most aquatic species, and those (as the Otarice) which more nearly resemble the terrestrial Carnivores, and upon the supposition that the former have been gradually differentiated from the latter, it might be hoped that paleontology would have revealed some further stages in the series of modifications. At present, however, this expectation has been disappointed. In fact, the fossil remains of seals and seal-like animals as yet known are not numerous or of very great interest, although when those of the Antwerp crags, where they occur more abundantly than elsewhere, have been completely described (a work upon which M. Van Beneden is at present engaged) we may look for further information about them. At present we know of fragments of skulls, jaws, and principally isolated teeth assigned to Pinnipeds, from various Miocene and Pliocene deposits in France, South Germany, Italy, and Bessarabia. The genus Pristiphoca, was founded by Gervais on a jaw found in the Pliocene marine sands of Montpellier; it belongs to a form apparently allied to Stenorhynchus and Pelagius. The Miocene species from Aquitaine, known only by isolated teeth, are referred by Delfortrie to the genus Otaria. Tusks of animals of great size, and apparently allied to the walrus, have been found in the Antwerp and Suffolk crags, and received the name of Tricliechodou, and a lower jaw of much interest, as showing a transitional character between the walrus and the more typical seals, also from Antwerp, has been described under the name of Alachthermm.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/013487b0

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