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MAMMALIA

MAMMALIA (from Lat. mamma, a teat or breast), the name proposed by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus for one of the classes, or primary divisions, of vertebrated animals, the members of which are collectively characterized by the presence in the females of special glands secreting milk for the nourishment of the young. With the exception of the lowest group, such glands always communicate with the exterior by means of the teats, nipples or mammae, from which the class derives its name. The class-name (modified by the French into M ammiféres, and replaced in German by the practically equivalent term Siiugethiere) has been anglicized into “ Mammals ” (mammal, in the singular). Of recent years, and more especially in America, it has become a custom to designate the study of mammals by the term “ mammalogy.” Etymologically, however, that designation cannot be justified; for it is of hybrid (Latin and Greek) origin, and is equivalent to “ mastology, " the science which deals with the mammary gland (Gr. pwcrrbs, woman's breast), a totally different signification. As regards existing forms of life, the limitations of the class are perfectly well defined and easy of recognition; for although certain groups (not, by the way, whales, which, although excluded in popular estimation from the class, are in all essential respects typical mammals) are exceedingly aberrant, and present structural features connecting them with the lower vertebrate classes, yet they are by common consent retained in the class to which they are obviously most nearly affiliated by their preponderating characteristics. There is thus at the present day a great interval, unbridged by any connecting links, between mammals and the other classes of vertebrates.

Not so, however, when the extinct forms of vertebrate life are taken into consideration, for there is a group of reptiles from the early part of the Secondary, or Mesozoic period, some of whose members must have been so intimately related to mammals that, were the whole group fully known, it would clearly be impossible to draw a distinction between Mammalia on the one hand and Reptilia on the other. Indeed, as it is, we are already partially acquainted with one of these early intermediate creatures (Tritylodon), which forms a kind of zoological shuttlecock, being, so to speak, hit from one group to another, and back again, by the various zoologists by whom its scanty remains have been studied. Considered collectively, mammals, which did not make their appearance on the earth for some time after reptiles had existed, are certainly the highest group of the whole vertebrate sub-kingdom. This expression must not, however, be considered in too restricted a sense. In mammals, as in other classes, there are low as well as high forms; but by any tests that can be applied, especially those based on the state of development of the central nervous system, it will be seen that the average exceeds that of any other class, that many species of this class far excel those of any other in perfection of structure, and that it contains one form which is unquestionably the culminating point amongst organized beings. Mammals, then, are vertebrated animals, possessing the normal characteristics of the members of that primary division of the animal kingdom. They are separated from fishes and batrachians (Pisces and Batrachians) on the one hand, and agree with reptiles, and birds (Reptilia and Aves) on the other, in the possession during intra-uterine life of the membranous vascular structures respectively known as the amnion and the allantois, and likewise in the absence at this or any other period of external gills. A four-chambered heart, with a complete double circulation, and warm blood (less markedly so in the lowest group than in the rest of the class), distinguish mammals from existing reptiles, although not from birds. From both birds and reptiles the class is distinguished, so far at any rate as existing forms are concerned, by the following features: the absence of a nucleus in the red corpuscles of the blood, which are nearly always circular in outline; the free suspension of the lungs in a thoracic cavity, separated from the abdominal cavity by a muscular partition, or diaphragm, which is the chief agent in inflating the lungs in respiration; the aorta, or main artery, forming but a single arch after leaving the heart, which curves over the left terminal division of the windpipe, or bronchus; the presence of more or fewer hairs on the skin and the absence of feathers; the greater development of the bridge, or commissure, connecting the two halves of the brain, which usually forms a complete corpus callosum, or displays an unusually large size of its anterior portion; the presence of a fully developed larynx at the upper end of the trachea or windpipe, accompanied by the absence of a syrinx, or expansion, near the lower end of the same; the circumstance that each half of the lower jaw (except perhaps at a very early stage of development) consists of a single piece articulating posteriorly with the squamosal element of the skull without the intervention of a separate quadrate bone; the absence of prefrontal bones in the skull; the presence of a pair of lateral knobs, or condyles (in place of a single median one), on the occipital aspect of the skull for articulation with the first vertebra; and, lastly, the very obvious character of the female being provided with milk-glands, by the secretion of which the young (produced, except in the very lowest group, alive and not by means of externally hatched eggs) are nourished for some time after birth.

In the majority of mammals both pairs of limbs are well developed and adapted for walking or running. The fore-limbs may, however, be modified, as in moles, for burrowing, or, as in bats, for Bight, or finally, as in whales and dolphins, for swimming, with the assumption in this latter instance of a flipper-like form and the complete disappearance of the hind-limbs. Special adaptations for climbing are exhibited by both pairs of limbs in opossums, and for hanging to boughs in sloths. In no instance are the fore-limbs wanting.

In the great majority of mammals the hind extremity of the axis of the body is prolonged into a tail. Very generally the tail has distinctly the appearance of an appendage, but in some of the lower mammals, such as the thylacine among marsupials, and the aard-vark or ant-bear among the e dent ates, it is much thickened at the root, and passes insensibly into the body, after the fashion common among reptiles. As regards function, the tail may be a mere pendent appendage, or may be adapted to grasp boughs in climbing, or even to collect food or materials for a nest or sleeping place, as in the spider-monkeys, opossums and rat-kangaroos. Among jumping animals it may serve as a balance, as in the case of jerboas and kangaroos, While in the latter it is also used as a support when resting; among many hoofed mammals it is used as a fly-whisk; and in whales and dolphins, as well as in the African Polamogale and the North American musquash, it plays an important part in swimming. Its supposed use as a trowel by the beaver is, however, not supported by the actual facts of the case.

As already indicated, the limbs of different mammals are specially modified for various modes of life; and in many cases analogous modifications occur, in greater or less degree, throughout the entire body. Those modifications most noticeable in the case of cursorial types may be briefly mentioned as examples. In this case, as might be expected, the greatest modifications occur in the limbs, but correlated with this is also an elongation of the head and neck in long-legged types. Adaptation for speed is further exhibited in the moulding of the shape of the body so as to present the minimum amount of resistance to the air, as well as in increase in heart and lung capacity to meet the extra expenditure of energy. Finally, in the jumping forms we meet with an increase in the length and weight of the tail, which has to act as a counterpoise. As regards the feet, a reduction in the number of digits from the typical five is a frequent feature, more especially among the hoofed mammals, where the culmination in th is respect is attained by the existing members of the horse tribe and certain representatives of the extinct South American Proterotheriidae, both of which are monodactyle. Brief reference may also be made to the morphological importance of extraordinary length or shortness in the skulls of mammals-dolichocephalism and brachycephalism; both these features being apparently characteristic of specialized types, the former condition being (as in the horse) often, although not invariably, connected with length of limb and neck, and