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Case studies in novel narial anatomy: 3. Structure and function of the nasal cavity of saiga (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Saiga tatarica)

  • Andrew B. Clifford (a1) (a2) and Lawrence M. Witmer (a3)

Much of the narial anatomy of the enigmatic antelope Saiga tatarica has been described by previous workers. However, the anatomy of the nasal cavity and the causally associated osteological correlates of proboscis structure require closer attention, because these data are integral for both a more comprehensive understanding of saiga functional morphology and more robust reconstructions of proboscis structure in fossil taxa. Saiga and outgroup specimens were subjected to X-ray computed tomographic (CT) imaging, gross dissection and skeletonization. The nasal cavity of saiga is characterized by an enlarged nasal vestibule and basal conchal fold. Many structures (e.g. turbinates, lateral cartilages, mucosal folds, nasolacrimal duct) are retracted caudally to a small area in the caudodorsal part of the nasal cavity proper. The enlarged vestibule is associated laterally and ventrally with paired sacs. The nasal septum is largely membranous and contains a large patch of cavernous tissue that serves as a dynamic baffle modifying the flow of inspired air. Bones comprising the narial margin have modified attachment sites for buccinator group muscles and the reduced lateral cartilages. The premaxilla is greatly modified by the enlarged musculature associated with nasolabial fusion. Maintenance of the topological relationships of narial structures compared to bovid outgroups has resulted in a nasal cavity with much larger area for seromucous glands of the vestibule as well as narial musculature capable of controlling the aperture of the nasal cavity. Maxillolabial muscles and the lateralis nasi act together both to compress the nasal cavity and to control the dilation of the nostrils such that air flow through the cavity is highly modified relative to bovid outgroups. The lateral vestibular recess is an outpocketing of the nasal vestibule that produces supplementary seromucous secretions and seems to have no homologue among outgroups. The enlarged nasal vestibule, lateral vestibular recess, repositioned basal fold, and septal cavernous mass are regarded as a coordinated adaptation to dusty habitats, such that nasal air flow can be dynamically regulated allowing for collection of inspired particulates in the vestibule and thus cleansing of air destined for the lungs.

Corresponding author
All correspondence to: L. M. Witmer. E-mail:
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Journal of Zoology
  • ISSN: 0952-8369
  • EISSN: 1469-7998
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-zoology
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