The external ear morphology and presence of tragi in Australian marsupials

Hayley J. Stannard, Kathryn Dennington, Julie M. Old

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Multiple studies have described the anatomy and function of the external ear (pinna) of bats, and other placental mammals, however, studies of marsupial pinna are largely absent. In bats, the tragus appears to be especially important for locating and capturing insect prey. In this study, we aimed to investigate the pinnae of Australian marsupials, with a focus on the presence/absence of tragi and how they may relate to diet. We investigated 23 Australian marsupial species with varying diets. The pinnae measurements (scapha width, scapha length) and tragi (where present) were measured. The interaural distance and body length were also recorded for each individual. Results indicated that all nectarivorous, carnivorous, and insectivorous species had tragi with the exception of the insectivorous striped possum (Dactylopsila trivirgata), numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), and nectarivorous sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps). No herbivorous or omnivorous species had tragi. Based on the findings in this study, and those conducted on placental mammals, we suggest marsupials use tragi in a similar way to placentals to locate and target insectivorous prey. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) displayed the largest interaural distance that likely aids in better localization and origin of noise associated with prey detection. In contrast, the smallest interaural distance was exhibited by a macropod. Previous studies have suggested the hearing of macropods is especially adapted to detect warnings of predators made by conspecifics. While the data in this study demonstrate a diversity in pinnae among marsupials, including presence and absence of tragi, it suggests that there is a correlation between pinna structure and diet choice among marsupials. A future study should investigate a larger number of individuals and species and include marsupials from Papua New Guinea, and Central and South America as a comparison.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9853-9866
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number18
Early online date28 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


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