Project 3344: C. M. Peredo, N. D. Pyenson, C. D. Marshall, M. D. Uhen. 2018. Tooth Loss Precedes the Origin of Baleen in Whales. Current Biology. 28 (24):3992-4000.e2.
Specimen: † Maiabalaena nesbittae (unvouchered)
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Whales use baleen, a novel integumentary structure, to filter feed; filter feeding itself evolved at least five times in tetrapod history but demonstrably only once in mammals [1]. Living baleen whales (mysticetes) are born without teeth, but paleontological and embryological evidence demonstrate that they evolved from toothed ancestors that lacked baleen entirely [2]. The mechanisms driving the origin of filter feeding in tetrapods remain obscure. Here we report Maiabalaena nesbittae gen. et sp. nov., a new fossil whale from early Oligocene rocks of Washington State, USA, lacking evidence of both teeth and baleen. The holotype possesses a nearly complete skull with ear bones, both mandibles, and associated postcrania. Phylogenetic analysis shows Maiabalaena as crownward of all toothed mysticetes, demonstrating that tooth loss preceded the evolution of baleen. The functional transition from teeth to baleen in mysticetes has remained enigmatic because baleen decays rapidly and leaves osteological correlates with unclear homology; the oldest direct evidence for fossil baleen is ~25 million years younger [3] than the oldest stem mysticetes (~36 Ma). Previous hypotheses for the origin of baleen [4, 5] are inconsistent with the morphology and phylogenetic position of Maiabalaena.The absence of both teeth and baleen in Maiabalaena is consistent with recent evidence that the evolutionary loss of teeth and origin of baleen are decoupled evolutionary transformations, each with a separate morphological and genetic basis [2, 6]. Understanding these macroevolutionary patterns in baleen whales is akin to other macroevolutionary transformations in tetrapods such as scales to feathers in birds.

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Article DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.10.047

Project DOI: 10.7934/P3344,
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MorphoBank Project 3344
  • Creation Date:
    30 November 2018
  • Publication Date:
    12 December 2018
  • Project views: 4490

    Authors' Institutions

    • National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

    • Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle

    • George Mason University

    • Texas A&M University at Galveston


    member name taxa specimens media
    MorphoBank Curator
    Project Administrator
    Christopher Marshall
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    Carlos Peredo
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    Nick Pyenson
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    Mark Uhen
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