Symmetrodonta is a group of Mesozoic mammals and mammal-like synapsids characterized by the triangular aspect of the molars when viewed from above and the absence of a well-developed talonid. The traditional group of 'symmetrodonts' ranges in age from the latest Triassic to the Late Cretaceous. Most research during the 21st century has concluded that they do not represent a discrete phylogenetic category. However, the name is still used informally by some researchers for convenience, or restricted to the spalacotheriids and zhangheotheriids.
Temporal range: Early Cretaceous–Campanian Possible Paleocene ghost lineage
|Fossil specimen of Zhangheotherium quinquecuspidens|
Symmetrodonts with acutely-triangulated molar cusps (“acute-angled symmetrodonts”) seem to form a true monophyletic group, and lasted from the Early Cretaceous to the Campanian, although Zhangheotheriidae might be paraphyletic in relation to other forms. Chronoperates has been suggested to be a late surviving representative of this clade, offering a ghost lineage extending to the late Paleocene; however, no recent phylogenetic studies have incorporated it.
Though some forms like Zhangheotherium retain a Meckelian groove, at least Spalacotheriidae lost it, acquiring modern ear anatomy. Their deciduous canines and premolars as well as long lower jaw indicate a carnivorous/insectivorous diet.
Zhangheotherium was specialised to a scansorial lifestyle. It shows evidence of tarsal spurs, indicating that, like most non-therian Mammaliaformes, at least some symmetrodonts were venomous like the modern platypus.
One species, Spalacotheridium noblei, is notable for its small size. It is one of the smallest known mammals. Each individual molar is little more than 0.25 mm across.
- Meng, J.; Hu, Y.; Li, C.; Wang, Y. (2006). "The mammal fauna in the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota: implications for diversity and biology of Mesozoic mammals". Geological Journal. 41 (3–4): 439–463. doi:10.1002/gj.1054.
- Bi, Shundong; Wang, Yuanqing; Guan, Jian; Sheng, Xia; Meng, Jin (2014). "Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals". Nature. 514 (7524): 579–584. doi:10.1038/nature13718. PMID 25209669.
- Bi, Shundong; Zheng, Xiaoting; Meng, Jin; Wang, Xiaoli; Robinson, Nicole; Davis, Brian (2016). "A new symmetrodont mammal (Trechnotheria: Zhangheotheriidae) from the Early Cretaceous of China and trechnotherian character evolution". Scientific Reports. 6: 26668. doi:10.1038/srep26668. PMC 4877676. PMID 27215593.
- Meng, J.; Hu, Y.; Wang, Y.; Li, C. (2003). "The ossified Meckel's cartilage and internal groove in Mesozoic mammaliaforms: implications to origin of the definitive mammalian middle ear". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 138: 431–448. doi:10.1046/j.1096-3642.2003.00064.x.
- Han, Gang; Meng, Jin (2016). "A new spalacolestine mammal from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota and implications for the morphology, phylogeny, and palaeobiology of Laurasian 'symmetrodontans'". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 178 (2): 343–380. doi:10.1111/zoj.12416.
- Chen, Meng; Wilson, Gregory P. (2015). "A multivariate approach to infer locomotor modes in Mesozoic mammals". Paleobiology. 41 (02): 280–312. doi:10.1017/pab.2014.14.
- Hurum, Jørn H.; Luo, Zhe-Xi & Kielan-Jaworowska, Zofia (2006). "Were mammals originally venomous?". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 51 (1): 1–11.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)