Thursday, 22 September 2016

Insectivores endemic to the Caribbean

Puerto Rican Nesophontes (N. edithae)
Reconstruction by Jennifer Garcia CC BY SA 3.0
The Caribbean is home to two endemic families of insectivores. The Nesophontidae are recently extinct. Their demise is attributed to the introduction of rats by Spanish Explorers though some believe the genus survived into the 20th Century.

To establish their phylogenetic position, scientists recently extracted DNA from a specimen preserved in an ancient owl pellet (here). This was no mean feat as the specimen was 750-years-old and DNA degrades rapidly in the tropics.

Hispaniolan Solenodon (S. paradoxus)
Biodiversity Heritage Library CC BY 2.0
The main finding was that Nesophontes shares a common ancestor with Solenodon. There are two species of this insectivore both listed as threatened by IUCN. A common origin had not been predicted on anatomical grounds not least because Nesophontes and Solenodon have different patterns of tooth occlusion (here). Together these families represent the oldest branch of the insectivores (Order Lipotyphla).
Placenta of Solenodon paradoxus
Wislocki (1940)
Despite its rarity, the placentation of S. paradoxus has been described (here) and we later compared it with that of other insectivores (here). Interesting features are remnants of capsular decidua, elaborately branched yolk sac villi and a sheath that superficially resembles that of crociduran shrews.

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