Evolution of the middle ear apparatus in Talpid moles.

Research paper by Matthew J MJ Mason

Indexed on: 03 Mar '06Published on: 03 Mar '06Published in: Journal of Morphology


The middle ear structures of eight species of mole in the family Talpidae (Mammalia: Eulipotyphla) were studied under light and electron microscopy. Neurotrichus, Parascalops, and Condylura have a simple middle ear cavity with a loose ectotympanic bone, ossicles of a "microtype" morphology, and they retain a small tensor tympani muscle. These characteristics are ancestral for talpid moles. Talpa, Scalopus, Scapanus, and Parascaptor species, on the other hand, have a looser articulation between malleus and ectotympanic bone and a reduced or absent orbicular apophysis. These species lack a tensor tympani muscle, possess complete bullae, and extensions of the middle ear cavity pneumatize the surrounding basicranial bones. The two middle ear cavities communicate in Talpa, Scapanus, and Parascaptor species. Parascaptor has a hypertrophied malleus, a feature shared with Scaptochirus but not found in any other talpid genus. Differences in middle ear morphology within members of the Talpidae are correlated with lifestyle. The species with middle ears closer to the ancestral type spend more time above ground, where they will be exposed to high-frequency sound: their middle ears appear suited for transmission of high frequencies. The species with derived middle ear morphologies are more exclusively subterranean. Some of the derived features of their middle ears potentially improve low-frequency hearing, while others may reduce the transmission of bone-conducted noise. By contrast, the unusual middle ear apparatus of Parascaptor, which exhibits striking similarities to that of golden moles, probably augments seismic sensitivity by inertial bone conduction.