The road from jaw to ear
The lower jaw of reptiles is made up of several bones. In mammals, however, it consists of just one, the tooth-bearing dentary. Most of the rest have become the ossicles that transmit sound through the middle ear. This transformation is an iconic example of evolutionary change, but direct fossil evidence of the transition has been hard to find. That's why a fossil described by Jin et al. is so important. It is from a triconodont (a type of extinct mammal) from the Cretaceous period in China. In it, the lower-jaw elements have started to resemble middle-ear ossicles, but are still joined to the lower jaw by a sliver of ossified cartilage. This element, Meckel's cartilage, is an important part of the inner surface of the lower jaw; the new fossil shows that it was a vital piece in the evolutionary jigsaw that led to the formation of the mammalian middle ear.
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