''Morganucodon'' ("Glamorgan tooth
") is an early mammaliaform genus
that lived from the Late Triassic
to the Middle Jurassic
. It first appeared about 205 million years ago. Unlike many other early mammaliaforms, ''Morganucodon'' is well represented by abundant and well preserved (though in the vast majority of cases disarticulated) material. Most of this comes from Glamorgan
(''Morganucodon watsoni''), but fossils have also been found in Yunnan
Province in China
(''Morganucodon oehleri'') and various parts of Europe and North America. Some closely related animals (''Megazostrodon
'') are known from exquisite fossils from South Africa
The name comes from a Latinization of ''Morganuc'', "South Glamorgan
in the Domesday Book
", the county where it was discovered by Walter Georg Kühne
, so it means "Glamorgan tooth". It has acquired the nickname Morgie in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
''Morganucodon'' was a small, plantigrade
animal. The tail was moderately long. According to Kemp (2005), "the skull was 2–3 cm in length and a presacral body length of about 10 cm inches
In general appearance, it would have looked like a shrew or mouse". There is evidence that it had specialized glands used for grooming, which may indicate that, like present day mammals, it had fur.
Like present day mammals of similar size and presumed habit, ''Morganucodon'' was likely nocturnal and spent the day in a burrow. There is no direct fossil evidence, but several lines of evidence point to a nocturnal bottleneck
in the evolution of the mammal class, and almost all modern mammals of similar size to ''Morganucodon'' are still nocturnal. Likewise, burrowing was widespread both in non-mammalian cynodont
s and in primitive mammals. The logics of phylogenetic bracketing
would make ''Morganucodon'' nocturnal and burrowing too. Plant material from the conifer ''Hirmeriella
'' was also found in the fissure fills, indicating ''Morganucudon'' lived in, or near, a forested area.
The diet appears to have been insects and other small animals, with a preference for hard prey such as beetles. Like most modern mammal insectivores, it grew fairly quickly to adult size. Its eggs were probably small and leathery, a condition still found in monotremes.
The teeth grew in mammalian fashion, with deciduous teeth
being replaced by permanent teeth that were retained throughout the rest of the animal's life.
[Alexander F. H. van Nievelt and Kathleen K. Smith, "To replace or not to replace: the significance of reduced functional tooth replacement in marsupial and placental mammals", ''Paleobiology'', Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2005) pages 324–346]
The combination of rapid growth in juveniles and a toothless stage at infancy strongly suggests that ''Morganucodon'' raised its young by lactation
; indeed, it may have been among the first animals to do so. The molars in the adult had a series of raised humps and edges that fit into each other, allowing for efficient chewing. However, unlike the situation in most later mammals, the upper and lower molars did not occlude properly when they first met; as they wore against each other, however, their shapes were modified by wear to produce a precise fit.
A 2020 study suggests that the metabolism of ''Morganucodon'' was significantly slower than that of comparably sized modern mammals, and that it had a life-span more similar to that of reptiles. Thus it likely did not possess the fully endothermic metabolism seen in current mammals.
''Morganucodon'' is the type genus
for the order Morganucodonta
, a group of generally similar mammaliaforms known from the Late Triassic
to Late Jurassic
epochs, with one possible member (''Purbeckodon
'') dating to the Early Cretaceous
. All were small and likely insectivorous. ''Morganucodon'' is the best preserved and best understood member of Morganucodonta.
There is currently controversy about whether or not to classify ''Morganucodon'' as a mammal or as a non-mammalian mammaliaform
. Some researchers limit the term "mammal" to the crown group
mammals, which would not include ''Morganucodon'' and its relatives. Others, however, define "mammals", as a group, by the possession of a special, secondarily evolved jaw joint between the dentary and the squamosal bones, which has replaced the primitive one between the articular
and quadrate bone
s in all modern mammalian groups. Under this definition, ''Morganucodon'' would be a mammal. Nevertheless, its lower jaw retains some of the bones found in its non-mammalian ancestors in a very reduced form rather than being composed solely of the dentary. Furthermore, the primitive reptile-like jaw joint between the articular and quadrate bones, which in modern mammals has moved into the middle ear and become part of the ear ossicles as malleus and incus, is still to be found in ''Morganucodon''. ''Morganucodon'' also suckled (it may have been the earliest animal to do so), had only two sets of teeth and grew rapidly to adult size and stopped growing thereafter, all typical mammalian traits.
[Mammals of the Mesozoic: The least mammal-like mammals]
* Evolution of mammals
Category:Late Triassic synapsids
Category:Triassic synapsids of Europe
Category:Rhaetian first appearances
Category:Middle Jurassic extinctions
Category:Fossil taxa described in 1949
Category:Taxa named by Walter Georg Kühne