A list of traits linking monotremes with birds

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD

     

The following is a list of traits linking monotremes with birds. Living monotremes include the platypus and echidnas. Additional traits linking these animals to birds are listed on a separate page of this website which discusses the possibility of bird-mammal hybrids.

EGGS

Monotremes incubate and hatch eggs outside the body (like birds). Reptiles do not incubate eggs. "Monotremes lay eggs that are telolecithal (the yolk is concentrated toward the vegetal pole of the ovum) and meroblastic (early cleavages are restrected to a small disk at the animal pole of the ovum) like bird eggs but unlike the reproductive processes of therian mammals [i.e., of all other mammals]" Vaughan et al. (2011, p. 76).

EARS

In a symposium presented to the Australian Mammal Society, Augee (1974, p. 90) stated that "Both the platypus and echidna have rudimentary external ears." While all mammals other than the monotremes have external ears (pinnae), birds do not.

SKULL/BEAK

Iggo et al. (1985, p. 261) say the skin of the beak has an outer, heavily cornified layer. And Augee et al. (2006, p.34 ) concur, saying that on the beak of an echidna "The outer layer of the skin is heavily keratinised." The nostrils of kiwis, unlike those of all other birds, are located at the tip of the beak (Roots 2006., p. 10). The same is true of echidnas. "The adult echidna skull "is bird-like, with a large, domed cranium and long tubular snout. The snout is comprised of long, thin extensions of the premaxillary, septomaxillary and maxillary bones " (Augee et al. 2006, p. 38). In monotremes the cranial sutures vanish at an early age, the bones of the head in adult specimens being united together and smooth as in birds, and not connected by sutures as is the case in other mammals (Augee et al. 2006).

echidna skull
Skull of an echidna (note bird-like shape)

echidna cranium close-up
Echidna cranium: Close-up to show lack of sutures

TEETH

In monotremes the young have an egg tooth that helps them emerge from the egg, as do hatchling birds (Augee et al. 2006, p. 37, Vaughan et al. 2011, pp. 76, 81). Otherwise, teeth are absent (except in young platypuses), as in birds (Vaughan et al. 2011, p. 75). "Echidnas completely lack teeth. No indication of vestigial dentition has been detected in studies of echidna embryos. As far as the fossil record is concerned, echidnas have never possessed teeth, and no intermediate between a toothed monotreme and a prehistoric echidna has yet been found" (Augee et al. 2006, p. 38).

EYES

The cartilaginous layer beneath the scleral layer of the eyeball is characteristic of reptiles and birds (Augee et al. 2006, p. 55).

CLOACA

Monotremes of both sexes have a cloaca (as do birds, reptiles and amphibians). A cloaca is a common chamber into which the intestines, the reproductive ducts, and urinary ducts vent (Vaughan et al. 2011, p. 120).

TESTES

Monotremes and some tenrecs (and no other mammals) have internal testes, as do birds (Walker 1999, pp. 7, 186). In other mammals the testicles are contained in an external pouch (scrotum).

Likewise, in both the platypus and echidnas, the spermatozoa are filiform, as are those of a bird, and as those of other mammals are not (Bedford and Rifkin 1979, Warren et al. 2008).

OVARIES

Only the left ovary is functional in platypuses, as is the case in birds (Asdell 1964). In echidnas, both are active, as in mammals (Vaughan et al. 2011, p. 76).

COCHLEA

"The cochlea of the inner ear in most mammals is coiled like a snail shell and in humans has two-and-three-quarter turns. In the echidna the cochlea has a banana-shaped curve with only a three-quarter spiral turn