Monday, July 16, 2012

The Function of Cheek Pouches

A possible ancestor of Diprotodon (the largest mammal known from anytime in Australia, as well as the largest known marsupial known from anywhere in the world, and a relative of the wombat), the skull of Euryzygoma dunense, another extinct, megafaunal, eight foot long, quadrupedal herbivorous marsupial, is quite interesting: it has two extended cheekbones.  This gives Euryzygoma the unusual mammalian property of its skull being wider than it is long.  Although to most this probably doesn’t actually seem all that exciting, the extended cheekbones have led to two interesting theories regarding their function in the living animal.  One we will look at in a few weeks (the week of August 3rd to be more precise), but the other one we will look at now.

The hypothesis came about when the skull of Euryzygoma was first described.  The scientists who first described Euryzygoma thought that the lateral extensions of the zygomatic arch resembled those seen in squirrels, gophers and various types of Old World Monkeys, like the macaque and the baboon

 In the living animals just described, these lateral extensions function as cheek pouches, which make it so that the animals that possess them can store food in them.  That is why you so often see a squirrel running around with its cheeks puffed out.   

Some scientists think that Euryzygoma might have used its cheek pouches to store water; thus, it would not need to spend so much time near waterholes that were most likely infested with large crocodiles.  This would also help Euryzygoma travel longer distances during a drought, enabling it to move greater distances to reach waterholes that other animals would simply unable to reach, having a much more limited range.

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