Alexis Mychajliw

investigating the past, present, and future of island mammals. and ones with wiggly noses, too.

“Insectivora”: the wiggly-nosed wastebasket, or: amazing convegent evolution in mammals

 

insectivora

“Insectivora” Plate from 1880. Includes Pen-Tail Shrew, Tenrec, Otter Shrew, Flying Lemur, Hedgehog, Common Mole, Common Shrew, Star-Nosed Mole, Elephant Shrew, and Squirrel Shrew. See below for actual phylogenetic placement.

Insectivora: once a taxonomic wastebasket for all weird wiggly-nosed insect-loving small mammals for more than 100 years, now split into numerous Orders that epitomize the fascinating legacy of convergent evolution in mammals.

The  nearly mirror-like radiations of “Insectivorans” inspired me to study evolutionary biology, and I still use them when teaching introductory biology. How crazy is it that a hedgehog tenrec is more closely related to an elephant than to an actual hedgehog? Answer: very crazy.

After decades of conflicting data, a combination of molecular and morphological data now support several major Orders that were hidden in this wastebasket.

In addition to being a wonderful example of convergence, this story also highlights the dynamic nature of systematics and the importance of morphological AND molecular sides to the story.

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Mr. Moonrat says “This page is under construction!”