Ferret Legging 101

31 08 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I’ve just completed my first day of class here at Stony Brook and am already overstuffed with homework assignments! Fortunately, while the content of an approximate half of my classes appear to be rather difficult, the other half looks like it’ll more than make up for it (and having an awesome pair of room-mates doesn’t hurt either). Anywho, to prevent TTT from becoming totally silent whilst I congregate my personal fecal material, I’ve decided to post a video clip explaining and demonstrating what has got to be the most epic sporting event in history: FERRET LEGGING!

Although I was originally planning to catch the occasional NHL or NFL game (whenever my beloved Broncos manage to return to town) whilst being able to enter NYC cheaply under student rates, I fear that I’ll now have to quench my thirst for spectating by heading down to Virginia and checking this out!

Weekly Spotlight: Daphoenus

29 05 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

At longtime reader Zach Miller’s request to cover an Amphicyonid “bear dog”, I’ve dedicated this post to one of the family’s most widely-preserved North American genera, Daphoenus sp.

Daphoenus sp. skeleton.

The genus was named by the famed American anatomist and paleontologist Joseph Leidy in 1853, with the first scientifically-described species being D. vetus. Five additional species have subsequently been established: D. hartshorianus, D. lambei, D. ruber, D. socialis, and D. transversus.

D. vetus skull.

Daphoenus has become the namesake genus for the Daphoneninae : one of the two known North American Amphicyonid subfamilies, with the other being the Amphicyoninae. According to Robert M. Hunt’s article in “The Evolution Of Tertiary Mammals In North America”:

“The Daphoeninae is considered here as a monophyletic North American endemic subfamily… [Its species are united by the following characters]: [Upper Molars or “M”]2-3 relative to M1 not enlarged in contrast to amphicyonines in which M2-3 are enlarged crushing teeth with amplified surface area; no reduction of premolars; p4 unreduced, often elongate, with squared posterior border; auditory bulla preserved only as an ossified ectotympanic crescent, loosely attached to the skull, without addition of any ossified entotympanic elements and without lateral prolongation into a bony external auditory meatus…; lack of expansion of the bulla posterior to the mastoid process; inferior petrosal venous sinus deeply excavated into edge of basioccipital; medial edge of petrosal in only slight contact with margin of basioccipital, not sutured to the basioccipital as seen in canids.”

Daphoenus Reconstruction.

In less technical terms, the Daphoeninae also bears the following non-exclusive generalized plesiomorphic characteristics:

-A generalized canine-like dentition.

-A relatively unspecialized and somewhat “feline” postcrania.

-Elongate cranium coupled with a short facial region of the skull.

-Presence of M3

-Lack of accessory cusps on anterior premolars.

-Elongation of lower limb elements (including the feet).

-A probable limitation in the ability to pronate/supinate the forelimb.

These features strongly insinuate that Daphoenus and its kin were cursorial beasts which were either overwhelmingly carnivorous or omnivorous with a bias towards predation.

In this figurine diorama, a Moropus is harassed by a fairly large Daphoenus.

As for Daphoenus itself, the skulls of it’s various species varied from a mere 14 cm in length (D. hartshorianus) to 24 cm in length (D. sp.) with the largest of these creatures rivaling a modern coyote in overall size. Some species are believed to have been sexually dimorphic, with the “males” sporting large canines and robust rostrums whilst the “females” maintain relatively small canines and gracile rostrums. The related species Brachyrhynchocyon sp. can be distinguished from this contemporaneous genus on the basis of the latter’s longer, narrower skulls and narrow premolars. Daphoenus is known from over sixty skulls (several of which contain associated lower jaws) along a number of postcranial skeletons, in addition to many isolated rostra, mandibles, and maxillae.

Daphoenus skull reconstruction.

The amphicyonids first emerged some 44 million years ago in Asia during the Mid-Eocene epoch before spreading into Asia and North America in the early Oligocene before eventually being out-competed by the precursors of modern ursids, canines, and felines by the Miocene’s conclusion. It should be noted that while these “bear-dogs” exhibited canine dentitions and a degree of homogeneous ursid-like cervical anatomy, they are not considered to have been members of either family: it would appear that all three groups have merely emerged from a common ancestor.

Daphoenus reconstruction.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!

My 2010 Booklist Part 1 of 3: January-April

27 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I apologize for my relative inactivity of late: the waning days of my final semester here at MCC are taking an enormous toll upon my free time which, consequently, has severely handicapped my ability to make routine posts.

To prevent TTT from going completely barren during this time, I’ve elected to showcase the following update on one of the resolutions I made just prior to the advent of the present year: namely, to increase my personal voluntary reading rate. As the title of the article suggests, this entry chronicles all of the books I’ve consumed thus far… each of which is accompanied by a short review composed by yours truly.

So, without further ado, I hereby present the first third of my 2010 booklist in chronological order.

“Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas” By David Rains Wallace

My Thoughts: The cover, excerpts of critical acclaim, and internal blurb all insinuate that ‘Neptune’s Ark’ is a highly accessible and evocative narration which equally blends scientific data, historical discourses, and personal observations concerning the history and conservation of marine life in North America’s west coast. However, in reality, the latter two features unambiguously dominate the text, leaving the former grossly under-represented. Though I find the history of science and the musings of eloquent naturalists to be fascinating and enjoyable topics, I don’t particularly care for being ambushed by either of them in search of ‘hard science’. With the exception of Wallace’s coverage of pinnipeds (which, in my opinion absorbs a disproportionately large amount of the book’s content), none of the strictly scientific information is technical enough to appeal to committed paleontology and zoology enthusiasts nor is it sufficiently readable and well-illustrated enough for laymen to find it comprehensible. The greatest strength of ‘Neptune’s Ark’ is unquestionably the author’s obvious passion for his subject, yet this ardor alone simply isn’t enough to save a book which attempts to please everyone and in so doing fails to please anyone.

”Beauty And The Beasts: Woman, Ape, And Evolution” By Carole Jahme

My Thoughts: As I’ve doubtlessly said elsewhere, my favorite popular science books are those which pay their philosophical dues and in so doing, provide the audience with more than a simple run-down of the featured discipline’s facts, theories, and controversies by forcing them to ponder the subject’s deeper implications for day-to-day life. To this end, I have yet to come across a scientific volume which exceeds the brilliant ‘Beauty & The Beasts’; a masterpiece of modern science writing. Jahme effortlessly brings us to sympathize with the plights and triumphs of female primatologists  while never failing to address such evocative and controversial questions as ‘Why do primates tend to be almost infinitely more trusting of women than men?’, ‘Should apes be given the same rights as human citizens?’, ‘How much does the human psyche have in common with those of our nearest relatives?’, and, on a broader scale, ‘Does scientific objectivity truly exist?’. Furthermore, although most feminists will relish the book, Jahme nonetheless refuses to promote “utero-centric propaganda” by thoroughly and equally scrutinizing the observational and scientific biases of both genders in primatology. In short, ‘Beauty & The Beasts’ doesn’t contain a single sentence which would lead me to remotely considering giving it anything less than my highest recommendation. Bravo!

”The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson And The Olympians Book One)” By Rick Riordan

My Thoughts: (WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD!!) Upon hearing a friend’s appraisal, I was encouraged to lend my eyes to a copy of this bestseller. Having completed the novel, I must admit that my feelings concerning it are mixed but mostly positive. Riordan’s overall concept of depicting the Greek Gods in the setting of the modern U.S. is absolutely superb and, as a lifelong mythology enthusiast, I relished the re-discovery of such legendary characters as Medusa, Procrustes, Charon, and Ares in their twenty-first century attire and occupations.  Similarly, the story as a whole is deliciously action-packed and relatively unpredictable. Unfortunately, “‘The Lightning Thief” has obviously stolen several key plot elements from the ever-popular ‘Harry Potter’ series. Furthermore, although Riordan has certainly provided his readers with a huge amount of suspense, he also falls prey to a few long-standing clichés as well as having the occasional supposedly ‘shocking’ plot twist anticipated by the reader far in advance. Still, ‘The Lightning Thief’ offers quite a bit of entertainment for those looking for a bit of light reading.

”Parasite Rex: Inside The Bizarre World Of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures” By Carl Zimmer

My Thoughts: As Zimmer would have likely predicted, I’ve never really given parasites very much consideration, despite my unrestrained adoration for a ‘host’ of  biological sciences. “Parasite Rex” conclusively reveals why this ignorance is scientifically unacceptable. Not only do these amazing organisms wield some of evolution’s most brilliant inventions, but an increasingly large amount of evidence suggests that they play an indispensably vital role in ecology and in environmental stability (in fact, it’s entirely possible that the majority of predator-prey relations are directly driven by them). Furthermore, Zimmer discusses how parasites may have directly led to such monumental evolutionary developments as sexual reproduction. For those intrigued by these ideas, I’d also suggest Susan Perkins’ excellent blog, ‘Parasite of the Day‘.

“When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives Of Animals” By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & Susan McCarthy

My Thoughts: This is one of those concepts which would have made for an excellent article, but ultimately collapses under the weight of a moderately-sized book. Masson and McCarthy do make some powerful arguments regarding anthropomorphism, anthropocentrism, and certain biases of the scientific and pop-culture communities at large, many of which I myself have been supporting for years. However, their most interesting points are almost entirely restricted to the introductory and concluding chapters, a fact that essentially reduces the remaining pages to a diverse but woefully repetitive collection of anecdotes, many of which can be more accurately described as mere ‘rumors’. Furthermore, although the authors clearly intended to utilize ‘When Elephants Weep’ for the purposes of convincing the scientific community to take the idea that animals have human-like emotions seriously, they’ve provided little more than a sliver of ‘hard’ scientific evidence, opting to focus almost exclusively on philosophy in its place (I fully realize that I’ve often shed a great deal of acclaim upon popular science books which ‘pay their philosophical dues’. However, this particular book does so to the exclusion of virtually any actual science). In summary, ‘When Elephants Weep’ seems incapable of winning over its intended audience, even though it will likely appeal to those who already support its central thesis.

“Survival Of The Sickest: The Surprising Link Between Disease And Longevity” By Sharon Moalem (With Johnathan Prince)

My Thoughts: Moalem’s brilliantly clear introduction to the subject of evolutionary medicine is well worth the attention of anyone seeking to broaden their knowledge of biology in general. Additionally, “Survival Of The Sickest” provides some of the finest preliminary outlines of epigenetics, ‘jumping genes’, and hypermutation I’ve ever read (all of which will ensure that you’ll never view Lamarckian evolution with the traditional dosage of contempt again). My only serious complaint hails from Moalem’s discussion of the infamous aquatic ape hypothesis in which he fully supports the notion without giving mention to any of its strongest criticisms. Still, this is but a minor point: on the whole, “Survival Of The Sickest” is an absolute must-read!

“Utilitarianism” By John Stuart Mill

My Thoughts: A quick perusal of TTT’s “About Me” page will reveal that I consider myself to be a bit of a John Stuart Mill fan. Yet most of my knowledge concerning the man’s philosophical and political ideology hails from various quotations and essays I’ve accumulated over the years. At least, such was the case prior to this past spring when I finally managed to obtain a used copy of Mill’s most famous volume. As with most classic philosophy texts, it’s wise to research the content of ‘Utilitarianism’ prior to actually reading it to better ensure comprehension whilst devouring its 1861 prose. Nonetheless, Mill brilliantly articulates the underlying principles and logic of Utilitarian philosophy through a satisfying parade of evocative and powerful arguments which force the reader to strongly reconsider his or her viewpoint on the very nature of morality itself.

“Death By Black Hole And Other Cosmic Quandaries” By Neil deGrasse Tyson

My Thoughts: I’ve frequently made much ado about the fact that I regard Hayden Planetarium astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to be one of the finest science communicators of our era as evidenced by his passionate prose, general avoidance of excessive jargon, excellent stage presence, and unique sense of humor. So, upon making the decision to widen my meager knowledge of astronomy by exploring popular science books on the subject, “Death By Black Hole” became my natural first choice. This collection of several dozen essays certainly doesn’t disappoint, serving instead as an entertaining and ceaselessly intriguing model of clarity. Tyson lends his exquisite explanatory capabilities to a host of various topics, my favorites being the emergence of light from the sun, how elements are formed and distributed by the collapse of stars, and the role of consistency in the universe. Additionally, his discussion regarding why intelligent design simply cannot be cited as ‘science’ and is demonstrably antithetical to all forms of scientific inquiry should be required reading for all students of science, philosophy, and theology. My only criticism is in light of the fact that the volume contains no illustrations or diagrams of any kind. While Tyson’s bang-up descriptive powers prevent this situation from becoming remotely problematic, the inclusion of visual references would have been greatly appreciated. However, this slight imperfection should not be misinterprited as a notable criticism, as I staunchly reccomend “Death By Black Hole” to essentially everyone.

“Supercapitalism: The Transformation Of Business, Democracy, And Everyday Life” By Robert Reich

My Thoughts: In my opinion, the most pressing issues facing our society and very democracy today homogeneously owe their existence to the deplorable effects of excessive “fundamentalist capitalism” or, as former secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls it in this important and very readable diagnosis of our current socio-economic situation, “Supercapitalism”. Reich does an almost impeccable job of explaining how the celebrated free-market American economy has spun wildly out of control during the course of the past 40 years and taken hold of the industrialized world as a whole (and particularly the U.S.) by highlighting a disturbing series of facts concerning the gross inequality of wealth distribution and the ease with which major corporations may now purchase political favors. Particular appraisal is deserved when one observes the fact that “Supercapitalism” manages to break the political taboo against criticizing the middle class when such debasements are due by highlighting the role of the typical consumer in this most regrettable and dire situation.

Be sure to check back in late August for part 2!

NOTE: The next “Spotlight” post will, by special request, feature the Eocene “bear-dog” Daphoenus sp.

Weekly Spotlight: Agriotherium

17 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

Bears are actually very weird creatures. They’ve adopted a plantigrade stance, they’re heavily omnivorous carnivorans, and they’re easily the largest modern amniotes to engage in hibernation (though, it should be noted that many comparative physiologists maintain that the ursid variety of this behavior can be better described as “winter lethargy”). Even the way popular culture depicts them is eccentric: in many regions of North America, indigenous people live in fear of grizzlies (Ursus arctos horribilis) and/or black bears (Ursus americanus) while simultaneously cuddling and adoring their stuffed, manufactured counterparts.

So it should come as so surprise that the prehistoric relatives of these massive beasts were largely an odd lot, too. Of course, the most famous examples of bizarre ursid kinsmen are the famed ‘Bear Dogs’ (‘Amphicyonids‘) and the over-hyped giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), the latter of which will be discussed in greater detail later on. Another perfect, but little-known, participant in this trend is Agriotherium sp., a genus ranging from the Miocene to the Pleistocene in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Agriotherium africanus skeletal reconstruction.

Agriotherium has been historically considered a member of the Ursavini tribe: which includes and is named after Ursavus sp., the earliest known New World constituent of the Ursinae subfamily. The tribe is most easily recognized by their shared possession of small, simple anterior molars (which, in some species, are even further reduced), the relatively large fourth frontal premolars which were well-designed for shearing, and plantigrade stance (which distinguishes them from several earlier and contemporary groups of ursids such as the aforementioned ‘bear-dogs’). However, several recent authors have claimed that Agriotherium should instead be placed within the Ursinae itself.

Agriotherium schneideri mandible.

As for the genus itself, in volume one of “The Evolution Of Tertiary Mammals In North America”, Robert Hunt writes that, among other features, “Agriotherium‘s outstanding traits are its anteriorly shortened lower jaw… [and] rudimentary [second metacarpal] talon.”

In “Ardipthecus Kadabba“, the authors explain “the possible presence of three phases of agriotheriine radiation during the Miocene. In the first phase, Indarctos arctoides was the only known species in Europe throughout the Vallesian… until it was replaced, in the second phase, by Indarctos atticus, a species that possibly arose from its predecessor. The third phase took place in the early Pliocene with the contemporaneous appearance of Agriotherium in Africa, Asia, and North America… [The] extinction of Indarctos atticus coincided with the proliferation of Agriotherium, and this may indicate a replacement of the former by the latter. However, it does not necessarily indicate an ancestor-descendant relationship, since Agriotherium was already highly diversified across continents towards the end of the Miocene…[It’s been] argued that an ancestor-descendant relationship between Indarctos and Agriotherium is merely based on stratigraphic occurence and not founded on synapomorphies. Based on [the] study of Agriotherium intermedium from China,… [some] have concluded that Agriotherium may have descended from a Hemicyon group. As a result, the origin and affinity of Agriotherium remains uncertain.”

Upon beholding the comparatively-lengthy limbs and strong dentition of the Agriotherium species, many authors have attempted to reconstruct this beast as a “hypercarnivore” which would have theoretically chased down ungulates and other land mammals to feed its disproportionately-high metabolic rate, as seen in the following illustration.

Arctodus has undergone similar treatment from the paleontological and artistic communities, having easily acquired more ‘super predator’ hype than any other fossilized ursid genus. However, Cameron McCormick of “Lord Geekington” has written an excellent article which explains why this “Godzillafication” of the short-faced bear is almost certainly a gross exaggeration, citing such reasons as its short canines, somewhat laterally-directed orbits, and a host of cranial features which closely resemble those of the largely herbivorous Tremarctos. Agriotherium has been similarly assumed to have been an insatiable, agressive, and powerful killer, yet it shares essentially all of the features which have forced the scientific community to disregard Arctodus as a creature befitting of this description. While both bears, in all likelihood, did consume meat in addition to foliage, it’s probable that this protein-rich fodder was generally acquired by way of scavenging rather than active hunting, but I have no intention of breaking open that particular can of worms by discussing this further.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!

Why I’m (Mostly) A Cenozoic Guy

10 02 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

It’s fairly safe to assume that anyone who’s given so much as a passing glance to this humble corner of the ‘net is well-aware of my overall preference of prehistoric mammals to their reptilian counterparts, as evidenced by my heading, my ‘comments section’ avatar, and the appreciable majority of my posts.

However, you may be suprised to learn that I haven’t always been like this. In the fairly recent past, I, like the most paleontology enthusiasts, was completely smitten by dinosaurs, mosasaurs, pterosaurs, crocodylians, and their scaly brethren (in point of fact, for a time, I rather resented mammals due to the general public’s unfair tendency to invariably treat them with more respect and admiration than it would ever consider granting to any organism which doesn’t utilize milk). While I still adore these fascinating creatures, I’ve since shifted my focus primarily towards the hairy side of vertebrate paleontology.

To assist me in partially explaining this academic epiphany, I’ll utilize an excerpt from a recent interview with pterosaur expert Mark Witton who, in addition to being a spellbindingly-talented illustrator and writer, also seems to express quite a bit of enthusiasm about my beloved fossil mammals for, when asked to state his favorite era in Earth’s history outside the Mesozoic, he replied:

“The Cainozoic (known to Americans as the Cenozoic – ed.) is undeniably interesting because you can really trace the development of modern ecologies and environments across the fossil record. You can watch mammal lineages bed-hop between different ecological niches – different feliformes vying for the hypercarnivory niche, hyena-like dogs, hippo- and horse-like like rhinos, tapir-like elephants, giraffe-like camels, that sort of thing. Cainozoic fossils haven’t had so long to be chewed up by destructive geological processes and this means we have a much greater insight into what was going on and this allows surprising glimpses into even epochs of 20 million years ago. Plus, mammal teeth are very identifiable, hardy and abundant anyway, so we can get a really good idea which groups were around in different places and times. As such, while the familiarity of some fossil mammals means that they may be somewhat less spectacular or intriguing than the more outlandish Mesozoic and Palaeozoic forms that preceded them, the depth of information available about them makes them equally compelling critters to learn about. The Cainozoic is, therefore, a particularly detailed chapter in Earth’s history and it’s hard not to be really sucked into learning about it once you start digging around.”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself (although I’ll concede that while the abundance of fossilized mammal teeth certainly makes things more scientifically convenient, it also forces the lion’s share of virtually any paleo-mammology volume to degenerate into a ‘dentistry 101’ textbook).

Furthermore, while one would likely come to the conclusion that the ‘greater insight’ into Cenozoic life to which Witton refers would indicate that the amazing organisms the era contains are recieved with an enormous amount of esteem by the paleontological community, this isn’t the case, at least not to the degree anyone unfamiliar with our science is bound to assume. Indeed, a quick perusal of my blogroll alone will provide sufficient data to uphold the assertion that the majority of amature and professional paleontologists alike adhere to the study of extinct reptiles. Dinosaurs, I hardly need mention, boast an especially large following, but this fact is destined to recieve its own rant post.

I fully realize that this love of all things reptilian is perfectly understandable: after-all, the fact that we cannot consider ourselves to be members of the reptilia class by any definition alone is sufficient enough to secure the appeal of these creatures to the well-known region of our imagination which lends itself to be captured by anything it deems ‘alien’. However, in this regard, our psyche tends to pursue ‘foreign discovery’ to the expense of that which lies within our own metaphorical back yard. Although we may have more in common with cetaceans than sauropods, the former behemoths are just as fascinating, yet we overlook them for their comparative familiarity.

The paleontological community has thus reached the bizarre state of expressing our collective interest in a group of unfamiliar animals for being strange and intriguing, yet many of its members withold their enthusiasm for a relatively closely acquainted group in spite of their own strangeness and intrigue. This relative neglect is one of the most powerful forces which ultimately draws me towards the study of paleo-mammology, as I’m sure it does for a great many of us interested in the field.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!

‘Weekly’ Wonders (Mini Version): Gomphotaria

18 01 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

(NOTE: In light of my recent preparation for the onset of my fourth semester later this week, this post will be on the small side comparatively. My apologies go to any and all pinniped enthusiasts who might be reading this.)

While popular culture maintains that cetaceans and sirenians are fascinating, majestic, and wonderfully mysterious animals, considerably less reverence is maintained for another group of modern marine mammals: the pinnipeds. Perhaps this unfortunate tendency is the result of the fact that, while whales, dolphins, manatees, and dugongs roam the seas without ever having to return to the recesses of ‘our world’ and are thus perceived to be ‘earth-bound aliens’ of sorts, their oceanic grace and manuverability, seals, sea lions, and walruses are still very much tied to the terrestrial habitats of their ancestors. Thus, they’re invariably denied the admiration reaped by their distant relatives simply because of the fact that they seem too similar to ourselves by comparison.

However, though you wouldn’t know it by following the mainstream media, pinnipeds are actually a surprisingly diverse group with a rich history of their own, which has been studded by a menagerie of intriguing genera including this week’s beast: Gomphotaria pugnax, a unique Miocene mollusk-eater from the coast of modern California.

Gompotaria skull. (Courtesy of http://www.coastalpaleo.blogspot.com)

Before moving on to coverage of this bizarre and somewhat ferocious-looking beastie, a review of it’s phylogeny is in order. Gomphotaria  is a member of the Dusignathinae, a group whose exact affinites are rather controversial. According to the paleobiology database, it’s been alligned with the Otariidae, the Odobenini, and the Odobenidae with the majority of recent authors asserting that it was a superfamily belonging to the latter. In the masterful second edition of the textbook “Marine Mammals: Evolutionary Biology”, authors Annalisa Berta, James L. Sumich, and Kit M. Kovacs write “The Dusignathinae includes the extinct genera Dusignathus, Gomphotaria, [and] Pontolis…Dusignathine walruses  developed enlarged upper and lower canines, whereas odobenines evolved only the enlarged upper canines seen in the modern walrus.”

Right, then. On to the featured critter itself!

Lawrence Barnes and R.E. Raschke formally described Gomphotaria in a 1991 paper, a key excerpt of which reads as follows:

“Both upper and lower canines are enlarged and procumbent and worn anteriorly, indicating that the animal may have probed the substrate in search of benthic invertebrates for food. Extreme breakadge and subsequent wear of large, single-rooted cheek teeth indicate that at least some, if not all, the food species (e.g. mollusks) probably had hard shells. Absence of a highly vaulted palate, present in walruses, indicates that G. pugnax did not suck bivalve tissues using the tongue-piston method employed by walruses [(the modern walrus, Odobenus rosmarus, feeds by attatching its strong lips to the prey item in question before rapidly withdrawing its tongue which creates a vacuum. The pinniped’s vaulted palate eases the process)] .”

Gomphotaria reconstruction, courtesy of Wikipedia.

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!