LECTURE 2: MAMMALS
The majority of mammals have seven cervical vertebrae (bones in the neck); this includes bats, giraffes, whales, and humans. The few exceptions include the manatee and the two-toed sloth, which have only six cervical vertebrae, and the three-toed sloth with nine cervical vertebrae.
The lungs of mammals have a spongy texture and are honeycombed with epithelium having a much larger surface area in total than the outer surface area of the lung itself. The lungs of humans are typical of this type of lung.
Breathing is largely driven by the muscular diaphragm at the bottom of the thorax. Contraction of the diaphragm pulls the bottom of the cavity in which the lung is enclosed downward. Air enters through the oral and nasal cavities; it flows through the larynx and into the trachea, which branches out into bronchi. Relaxation of the diaphragm has the opposite effect, passively recoiling during normal breathing. During exercise, the diaphragm contracts, forcing the air out more quickly and forcefully. The rib cage itself also is able to expand and contract to some degree, through the action of other respiratory and accessory respiratory muscles. As a result, air is sucked into or expelled out of the lungs, always moving down its pressure gradient. This type of lung is known as a bellows lung as it resembles a blacksmith's bellows.
The mammalian heart has four chambers: the right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, and left ventricle. Atria are for receiving blood; ventricles are for pumping blood to the lungs and body. The ventricles are larger than the atria and their walls are thick, because muscular walls are needed to forcefully pump the blood from the heart to the body and lungs. Deoxygenated blood from the body enters the right atrium, which pumps it to the right ventricle. The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs, where carbon dioxide diffuses out, and oxygen diffuses in. From the lungs, oxygenated blood enters the left atrium, where it is pumped to the left ventricle (the largest and strongest of the 4 chambers), which pumps it out to the rest of the body, including the heart's own blood supply.
All mammalian brains possess a neocortex, a brain region that is unique to mammals.
Mammals have integumentary systems made up of three layers: the outermost epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. This characteristic is not unique to mammals, since it is found in all vertebrates.
The epidermis is typically ten to thirty cells thick; its main function being to provide a waterproof layer. Its outermost cells are constantly lost; its bottommost cells are constantly dividing and pushing upward. The middle layer, the dermis, is fifteen to forty times thicker than the epidermis. The dermis is made up of many components such as bony structures and blood vessels. The hypodermis is made up of adipose tissue. Its job is to store lipids, and to provide cushioning and insulation. The thickness of this layer varies widely from species to species.
Although mammals and other animals have cilia that superficially may resemble it, no other animals except mammals have hair. It is a definitive characteristic of the order. Some mammals have very little, albeit in obscure parts of their bodies, but nonetheless, careful examination reveals the characteristic. None are known to have hair that naturally is blue or green in color although some cetaceans, along with the mandrills appear to have shades of blue skin. Many mammals are indicated as having blue hair or fur, but in all known cases, it has been found to be a shade of gray. The two-toed sloth and the polar bear may seem to have green fur, but this color is caused by algae growths.
Most mammals give birth to live young (vivipary), but a few, such as the monotremes lay eggs and at least one of them, the platypus, presents a particular sex determination system that in some ways resembles that of birds. Live birth also occurs in some non-mammalian species, such as guppies, snakes, and hammerhead sharks; thus it is not a distinguishing characteristic of mammals.
Mammals have sweat glands, a defining feature present only in mammals. Some of these glands produce milk (in what are called mammary glands), a liquid used by newborns as their primary source of nutrition. The monotremes branched from other mammals early on, and do not have the nipples seen in most mammals, but they do have mammary glands.
Nearly all mammals are endothermic. Most mammals also have hair to help keep them warm. Like birds, mammals can forage or hunt in cold weather and climes where reptiles and large insects cannot.
Endothermy requires plenty of food energy, so pound for pound mammals eat more food than reptiles. Small insectivorous mammals eat prodigious amounts for their size.
A rare exception, the naked mole rat is ectothermic ("cold-blooded"). Birds are also endothermic, so endothermy is not a defining mammalian feature.
In intelligent mammals, such as primates, the cerebrum is larger relative to the rest of the brain. Intelligence itself is not easy to define, but indications of intelligence include the ability to learn, matched with behavioral flexibility. Rats, for example, are considered to be highly intelligent as they can learn and perform new tasks, an ability that may be important when they first colonize a fresh habitat. In some mammals, food gathering appears to be related to intelligence: a deer feeding on plants has a brain relatively smaller than a cat that must think to outwit its prey.
The dependence of the young mammal on its mother for nourishment has made possible a period of training. Such training permits the nongenetic transfer of information between generations. The ability of young mammals to learn from the experience of their elders has allowed a behavioral plasticity unknown in any other group of organisms and has been a primary reason for the evolutionary success of mammals. The possibility of training is one of the factors that has made increased brain complexity a selective advantage. Increased associational potential and memory extend the possibility of learning from experience, and the individual can make adaptive behavioral responses to environmental change. Individual response to short-term change is far more efficient than genetic response.
Some types of mammals are solitary except for brief periods when the female is in estrus. Others, however, form social groups. Such groups may be reproductive or defensive, or they may serve both functions. In those cases that have been studied in detail, a more or less strict hierarchy of dominance prevails. Within the social group, the hierarchy may be maintained through physical combat between individuals, but in many cases stereotyped patterns of behaviour evolve to displace actual combat, thereby conserving energy while maintaining the social structure.
A pronounced difference between sexes (sexual dimorphism) is frequently extreme in social mammals. In large part this is because dominant males tend to be those that are largest or best-armed. Dominant males also tend to have priority in mating or may even have exclusive responsibility for mating within a “harem.” Rapid evolution of secondary sexual characteristics, including size, can take place in a species with such a social structure.
A complex behavior termed “play” frequently occurs between siblings, between members of an age class, or between parent and offspring. Play extends the period of maternal training and is especially important in social species, providing an opportunity to learn behaviour appropriate to the maintenance of dominance.
Mammals evolved from four-legged ancestors. They use their limbs to walk, climb, swim, and fly. Some land mammals have toes that produce claws and hooves for climbing and running. Aquatic mammals such as whales and dolphins have fins which evolved from legs.
Specialization in habitat preference has been accompanied by locomotor adaptations. Terrestrial mammals have a number of modes of progression. The primitive mammalian stock walked plantigrade—that is, with the digits, bones of the midfoot, and parts of the ankle and wrist in contact with the ground. The limbs of ambulatory mammals are typically mobile, capable of considerable rotation.
Mammals modified for running are termed cursorial. The stance of cursorial species may be digitigrade (the complete digits contacting the ground, as in dogs) or unguligrade (only tips of digits contacting the ground, as in horses). In advanced groups limb movement is forward and backward in a single plane.
Saltatory (leaping) locomotion, sometimes called “ricochetal,” has arisen in several unrelated groups (some marsupials, lagomorphs, and several independent lineages of rodents). This mode of locomotion is typically found in mammals living in open habitats. Jumping mammals typically have elongate, plantigrade hind feet, reduced forelimbs, and long tails. Convergent evolution within a given adaptive mode has contributed to the ecological similarity of regional mammalian faunas.
Mammals of several orders have attained great size (elephants, hippopotamuses, and rhinoceroses) and have converged on specializations for a ponderous mode of locomotion referred to as “graviportal.” These animals have no digit reduction and deploy the digits in a circle around the axis of the limb for maximum support, like the pedestal of a column.
Well-adapted arboreal mammals frequently are plantigrade, five-toed, and equipped with highly mobile limbs. Some species, including many New World monkeys, have a prehensile tail, which is used like a fifth hand. Brachiation, or “arm walking,” in which the animal hangs from branches and moves by a series of long swings, is an adaptation seen in gibbons. The primitive opposable anthropoid thumb is reduced as a specialization for this method of locomotion. Tarsiers are highly arboreal primates that have expanded pads on the digits to improve grasping, whereas many other arboreal mammals have claws or well-developed nails.
Sloths travel slowly along branches rather than swinging energetically.
Four mammalian groups are fully aquatic. Sirenians (dugongs and manatees) eat plants. Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and pinnipeds (seals and walruses) eat krill or fish. The sea otter eats a variety of invertebrates and fish. Some semiaquatic mammals are very similar to their close land-borne relatives (otters, muskrats, and water shrews, for example). Other mammals have undergone profound adaptation for swimming and life at sea. Walruses and seals give birth to and nurse their young on land, but cetaceans are completely helpless out of water. They depend on water for mechanical support and thermal insulation. Buoyed by their aquatic environment, whales have evolved into the largest mammals and indeed the largest animals ever.
Bats are the only truly flying mammals. Only with active flight have the resources of the aerial habitat been successfully exploited. Mammals belonging to other groups (colugos, marsupials, rodents) are adapted for gliding. A gliding habit is frequently accompanied by scansorial (climbing) locomotion. Many nongliders, such as tree squirrels, are also scansorial.
To maintain a high constant body temperature is energy expensive- mammals therefore need a nutritious and plentiful diet. While the earliest mammals were probably predators, different species have since adapted to meet their dietary requirements in a variety of ways. Some eat animal prey- this is a carnivorous diet (and includes insectivorous diets). Other mammals, called herbivores, eat plants. An herbivorous diet includes sub-types such as fruit-eating and grass-eating. An omnivore eats boths prey and plants. Carnivorous mammals have a simple digestive tract, because the proteins, lipids, and minerals found in meat require little in the way of specialized digestion. Plants, on the other hand, contain complex carbohydrates, such as cellulose. The digestive tract of a herbivore is therefore host to bacteria that ferment these substances, and make them available for digestion. The bacteria are either housed in the multichambered stomach or in a large cecum. The size of an animal is also a factor in determining diet type. Since small mammals have a high ratio of heat losing surface area to heat generating volume, they tend to have high-energy requirements and a high metabolic rate. Mammals that weigh less than about 18oz (500g) are mostly insectivorous because they cannot tolerate the slow, complex digestive process of a herbivore. Larger animals on the other hand generate more heat and less of this heat is lost. They can therefore tolerate either a slower collection process (those that prey on larger vertebrates) or a slower digestive process (herbivores). Furthermore, mammals that weigh more than 18oz (500g) usually cannot collect enough insects during their waking hours to sustain themselves. The only large insectivorous mammals are those that feed on huge colonies of insects (ants or termites).
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