June 15, 2024

Paedomorphic Ossification in Porpoises with an Emphasis on the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)


Liliana Mellor, Lisa Noelle Cooper, Jorge Torre, and Robert L. Brownell, Jr.


Abstract: Heterochrony, the change in timing of developmental processes, is thought to be a key process shaping the numerous limb morphologies of tetrapods. Through a delayed offset in digit development, all cetaceans (i.e., whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have evolved supernumary phalanges (hyperphalangy). Moreover, some toothed cetaceans further alter digital morphologies by delayed endochondral and perichondral ossification of individual elements. In the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), these paedomorphic patterns have created poorly ossified phalangeal elements. However, no studies have addressed this morphology in other porpoise taxa. This study documents the timing of carpal and digital epiphyseal ossification in the poorly studied vaquita (Phocoena sinus) based on radiographs (n = 18) of known-age specimens. Patterns of vaquita manus ossification were compared between other porpoise and delphinid taxa. Adult vaquitas are paedomorphic in carpal, metacarpal, and digital development as they maintain a juvenile ossification pattern relative to that of other porpoise species of equivalent ages. Vaquitas also ossify fewer carpal elements as compared to other porpoise and some delphinid cetaceans, and ossification arrests relative to that of the harbor porpoise. Vaquitas also display sexual dimorphism as females reach a greater body size and display more ossified elements in the manus relative to their paedomorphic male cohorts.

Key Words: Phocoenidae, paedomorphosis, heterochrony, forelimb, sexual dimorphism, endochondral ossification, Phocoena, vaquita

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.35.2.2009.193

Page Numbers: 193-202

Info SKU: Vol__35__Iss__2__Mellor_et__al_ Category: