September 9, 2006

The Evolution [Distinction] of the Binturong

The bints, it turns out, have an interesting evolutionary history.

Recent molecular analysis of the order Carnivora (dogs, cats, bears, seals, bints, etc.) places all subsequent species into two clades (branches): the Caniformia and the Feliformia.

The Caniformia clade contains a staggering array of animals - dogs, bears, seals, martins, pandas, otters and walruses - but interestingly enough, dogs (canids) were the first to split from the group (from the Arctoids), something like this:

The other side of the clade, the Feliformia, starts with the split of Nandinia, the African palm civet. Nandinia was once classified with the other civets in Viverridae, but molecular evidence has placed them in a separate branching.

Here you can see how closely related the bints are to the felids from an evolutionary perspective:

If you consider that the ancestors of the bints arose in the Oligocene, about 30 Mya (about halfway between the dinos and us), that makes the bints are relatively ancient mammals, splitting off with other viverrids from the ancestor of the African palm civet.

During the Oligocene, the world was cooling, but that didn't stop the spread of early forms of extant mammals and the more modern forms of birds:

Early forms of amphicyonids, canids, camels, tayassuids, protoceratids, and anthracotheres appeared, as did caprimulgiformes, birds that possess gaping mouths for catching insects. Diurnal raptors, such as falcons, eagles, and hawks, along with seven to ten families of rodents also first appeared during the Oligocene.

The binturong is the only Old World mammal to evolve a fully prehensile tail, meaning the tail is dexterous enough to be used to manipulate objects, like food items. The rest of the mammals possessing a fully prehensile tail are only found in North and South America (monkeys, opossums).

Only one other member of the order Carnivora has evolved a prehensile tail, the kinkajou (Paris Hilton's old fling).

Next time I want to discuss the ecology of the bints. Unfortunately, that means a revisitation of traditional Chinese medicine.


Phylogeny of the Carnivora (Mammalia): Congruence vs Incompatibility among Multiple Data Sets. Flynn J.J.; Nedbal M.A. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Volume 9, Number 3, June 1998, pp. 414-426(13)

Mosaics of convergences and noise in morphological phylogenies: what's in a viverrid-like carnivoran? Gaubert P, Wozencraft WC, Cordeiro-Estrela P, Veron G. Syst Biol. 2005 Dec;54(6):865-94.

1 comment:

  1. This was a really interesting post. It looks like they all are. Thanks for posting something that makes me feel like I was learning today, even if I wasn't studying ;)