Timing of development of the middle ear of Anura (Amphibia)
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- Hetherington, T.E. Zoomorphology (1987) 106: 289. doi:10.1007/BF00312003
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The opercularis system and tympanum-stapes complex of the anuran middle ear develop at different times relative to metamorphosis. In early larvae, the fenestra ovalis is represented by a large lateral opening in the otic capsule filled with connective tissue. At later larval stages, but well before metamorphosis, a cartilaginous operculum begins to form at the posterior margin of the fenestra ovalis, and proceeds to expand to fill all except the anterior part of the fenestra. The opercularis muscle forms along with the levator scapulae superior muscle at the anteromedial edge of the developing suprascapular cartilage of the shoulder girdle. The muscle fibers extend anteroventrally towards the operculum and otic capsule, and, just before emergence of the forelimbs, that portion that will form the opercularis muscle inserts on the lateral surface of the operculum. At this stage, when the metamorphosing frogs first show terrestrial habits, the opercularis system is complete and presumably functional. Timing of development of the tympanum-stapes complex is more variable. The stapes begins as a cartilaginous condensation in the anterior part of the fenestra ovalis, and develops laterally to eventually contact the epidermis and dermis that together will form the tympanum. Meanwhile a middle ear cavity and tympanic annulus form to complete the complex. In several species, especially those that metamorphose at a smaller body size, the tympanum-stapes complex is quite incomplete by the end of metamorphosis, and in Hyla crucifer it takes about 60 days to fully develop. The presence of a complete opercularis system by the start of terrestrial activity is consistent with an hypothesized seismic function of the system. The independent timing of development of the opercularis system and tympanum-stapes complex does not support functional hypotheses linking the opercularis system with modulation of responsiveness of the tympanum-stapes complex to aerial sound. Newly metamorphosed frogs with poorly developed tympanum-stapes complexes are presumably either insensitive to aerial sound or employ alternate mechanisms for transmission of sound energy to the inner ear, possibly involving the opercularis system.