Evolutionary Biology

Whales put their pelvic bones to good use

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Science  10 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6206, pp. 205-206
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6206.205-h
CREDIT: © STEPHEN FRINK COLLECTION/ALAMY

As organisms adapt to their environment, they lose traits that are no longer beneficial or keep them in much reduced form. Such “vestigial” traits may be on their way out, but sometimes they can also acquire new functions. Dines et al. show that the reduced pelvic bones of cetaceans (marine mammals such as whales, porpoises and dolphins) may fall into the latter category. They found that these bones anchor the muscles that control the highly dextrous penis found in many cetacean species. Moreover, species in which male competition for females is high have both large pelvic bones and penises relative to their body size.

Evolution 10.1111/evo.12516 (2014).

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