, Volume 12, Issue 3-4, pp 359-378

A Tachyglossid-Like Humerus from the Early Cretaceous of South-Eastern Australia

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Abstract

A partial right humerus has been recovered from the Early Cretaceous (Albian) Eumeralla Formation at Dinosaur Cove in south-eastern Australia. General morphology, size and the presence of a single epicondylar foramen (the entepicondylar) suggest that the bone is from a mammal or an advanced therapsid reptile. The humerus is similar in size, shape and torsion to the equivalent bone of extant and late Neogene echidnas (Tachyglossidae) but, contrary to the situation in extant monotremes, in which the ulna and radius articulate with a single, largely bulbous condyle, it bears a shallow, pulley-shaped (i.e. trochlear-form) ulnar articulation that is confluent ventro-laterally with the bulbous radial condyle. This form of ulnar articulation distinguishes this bone from the humeri of most advanced therapsids and members of several major groups of Mesozoic mammals, which have a condylar ulnar articulation, but parallels the situation found in therian mammals and in some other lineages of Mesozoic mammals. As in extant monotremes the distal humerus is greatly expanded transversely and humeral torsion is strong. Transverse expansion of the distal humerus is evident in the humeri of the fossorial docodont Haldanodon, highly-fossorial talpids and some clearly fossorial dicynodont therapsids, but the fossil shows greatest overall similarity to extant monotremes and it is possible that the peculiar elbow joint of extant monotremes evolved from a condition approximating that of the fossil. On the basis of comparisons with Mesozoic and Cainozoic mammalian taxa in which humeral morphology is known, the Dinosaur Cove humerus is tentatively attributed to a monotreme. However, several apparently primitive features of the bone exclude the animal concerned from the extant families Tachyglossidae and Ornithorhynchidae and suggest that, if it is a monotreme, it is a stem-group monotreme. Whatever, the animal's true affinity, the gross morphology of its humerus indicates considerable capacity for rotation-thrust digging.