Mystacodon selenensis Lambert, Martínez-Cáceres, Bianucci, Di Celma, Salas-Gismondi, Steurbaut, Urbina & Muizon, 2017 is a toothed mysticete that represents the earliest member of the suborder in the current state of knowledge. Its holotype is a relatively complete skeleton from the upper Eocene (early Priabonian, c. 36.4 Ma) Yumaque Member of the Paracas Formation from the southern coast of Peru. The thorough description of this specimen is presented here and reveals numerous similarities with the contemporaneous basilosaurids including the retention of an innominate that originally articulated to the unpreserved hind limb. However, several characters of M. selenensis clearly relate this taxon to the mysticetes, such as the large palate with a dorsoventrally flattened rostrum, the posterior extension of the palate with an infraorbital plate of the maxilla, the shortening of the premaxillary part of the rostrum, the zygomatic process of the squamosal being closely apposed to the postorbital process of the frontal, and the humeral head being oriented more proximally than posteriorly. A parsimony analysis retrieves Mystacodon as the earliest diverging branch of the Mysticeti with no close phylogenetic relationship with Llanocetus the second oldest known mysticete (c. 34.2 Ma). The dental formula of M. selenensis is that of basilosaurids (I 3/3, C 1/1, P 4/4, M 2/3). The anterior teeth (incisors and canine) are distinctly proportionally smaller than in basilosaurids, whereas the cheek teeth are very close in relative length, but are relatively larger than in most other toothed mysticetes (except Coronodon). The large cheek teeth of Mystacodon suggest a raptorial feeding strategy, probably assisted with some degree of suction, as indicated by the large size of the palate. The anterior teeth of the holotype display a subhorizontal apical wear facet and the cheek teeth a moderately sloping wear surface, differing from the subvertical attrition facets of basilosaurids. This pattern suggests an efficient dental abrasion resulting from feeding upon abrasive food items or/and from the ingestion of sediment during prey capture, which could indicate some degree of bottom feeding. On the forelimb, the size and orientation of the acromion, the great length of the deltopectoral crest, the massiveness of the olecranon of the ulna, and the strong radial anterior process indicate powerful shoulder movements, which suggest an active use of the forelimb when foraging for food on the sea floor. The robustness of digits and the pachyosteosclerosis of ribs with pestle-like distal end corroborate such a scenario. Mystacodon selenensis represents a first step in the evolutionary history of feeding adaptations of early mysticetes; the latter are likely to have experimented an abundant set of feeding strategies and were probably very eclectic in prey choice and capture before hyperspecialized filter feeding became widespread in the suborder.
Cetacea, toothed mysticete, late Eocene, Peru, phylogeny, anatomy, functional morphology, feeding strategies