Mammal Diversity and Evolution
BIOL 345/445; ANAT 445
(4 credit hours)
A survey of the major groups of living and extinct mammals
and an introduction to evolutionary trees

                Phylogeny Class: Tu/Th, 2:45-4:00 PM, E429A
(East Wing, School of Medicine)

Lab: Wednesdays, 2:00-5:00 PM; most Osteology Labs (OL) meet in Classroom C of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; Phylogenetics labs (PL) meet in Clapp 304


Darin A. Croft, Ph.D. (
Robbins, EG-03; 368-5268

Teaching Assistant:
Tara Kelloway (

Prerequisite: BIOL 214
This course focuses on the anatomical and taxonomic diversity of mammals in an evolutionary context. The emphasis is on living (extant) mammals, but extinct mammals are also discussed. By the end of the course, students will be able to: (1) describe the key anatomical and physiological features of mammals; (2) name all orders and most families of living mammals; (3) identify a mammal skull to order and family; (4) understand how to create and interpret a phylogenetic tree; (5) appreciate major historical patterns in mammal diversity and biogeography as revealed by the fossil record. Two student-led seminars and one lab each week. Most labs will take place at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. One weekend field trip to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. This course satisfies a laboratory requirement for the biology major.
Syllabus, Fall 2013
Please do assigned readings and watch the video before each lecture.
Date Activity
Text Readings
DVD Quiz/Report
Aug. 27 C1: Mammal characteristics and classification
V: Ch. 1-2, 4
M: i-xli
D1: Food for thought (4:2)
Aug. 28 L1: Intro. to Osteology (OL)
**Clapp 304**

Aug. 29
C2: Zoogeography and classification
V: Ch. 25

Sept. 3
C3: Mammal origins, Monotremata
V: Ch. 3, 5, 20
M: 2-7
D2: A winning design (1:1)
Sept. 4
L2: Introduction to Cladistics (PL)
W: Ch. 1-3
Quiz 1: C2-3, D2
Sept. 5
C4: Afrosoricida, Macroscelidea, Tubulidentata V: Ch. 7-8
M: 68-83

Grad. presentation dates due
Sept. 10
C5: Erinaceomorpha, Soricomorpha
V: Ch. 14
M: 416-441
D3: Insect hunters (1:2)
Sept. 11
L3: Afrosoricida, Macroscelidea, Soricomorpha, Erinaceomorpha

Quiz 2: C4-5, D3
Sept. 12
C6: Cingulata, Pholidota (OL)
V: Ch. 10
M: 114-119, 124-127, 476-477
D4: Life in the trees (3:2) L2 Report Due
Sept. 17 C7: Pilosa V: Ch 10
M: 120-123

Sept. 18
L4: Monotremata, Pholidota, Cingulata, Pilosa, Tubulidentata (OL)

Quiz 3: C6-7, D4
Sept. 19 C8: Scandentia, Dermoptera, Primates 1 V: Ch. 11-12
M: 270-415

Lab Notebook check-in
Sept. 24
C9: Primates 2 V: Ch. 12
M: 270-407
D5: Social climbers (4:1)
Sept. 25
L5: Cladistics 2 (PL)

Quiz 4: C8-9, D5
Sept. 26
C10: Chiroptera 1 V: Ch. 15, 22
M: 442-475

Grad. skull guide groups due
Oct. 1
C11: Chiroptera 2 V: Ch. 15, 22
M: 442-475

Oct. 2
L6: Scandentia, Dermoptera, Primates, Chiroptera (OL)

Quiz 5: C10-11
Oct. 3 C12: Rodentia 1 V: Ch. 13
M: 128-269
D6: Chisellers
L5 Report Due

(through Oct. 2)

Oct. 10

Oct. 15 C13: Rodentia 2, Lagomorpha V: Ch. 13
M: 128-247

Oct. 16 L7: Rodentia, Lagomorpha

Quiz 6: C12-13, D6 
Oct. 17
C14: Carnivora V: Ch. 16
M: 478-675
D7: Meat eaters (2:2)  
Oct. 22 (No Class: Fall Break)
  D8: Opportunists (2:3)

Oct. 23 L8: Carnivora (OL)
Quiz 7: C14, DVDs 7-8
Oct. 24 C15: Proboscidea, Sirenia, Hyracoidea
V: Ch. 9
M: 84-113

Oct. 29 (No class: SVP meeting)

Oct. 30
(No class: SVP meeting)

Oct. 31
(No class: SVP meeting)

Nov. 5 C16: Cetacea V: Ch. 19, 22
M: 800-873
D9: Return to the water (3:1) Grad. skull guide information due
Nov. 6 L9: Hyracoidea, Sirenia, Proboscidea, Cetacea (OL)

Quiz 8: C15-16, D9
Nov. 7 C17: Artiodactyla
V: Ch. 18
M: 676-687, 704-799
D10: Plant predators (1:3)
Nov. 12 C18: Perissodactyla V: Ch. 17
M: 688-703

Nov. 13 L10: Artiodactyla, Perissodactyla (OL)

Quiz 9: C17-18, D10
Nov. 14
C19: Marsupials 1
V: Ch. 6
M: 8-67
D2: A winning design (1:1)
Nov. 19 C20: Marsupials 2
V: Ch. 6
M: 8-67

Nov. 20 L11: Marsupials (OL)
Quiz 10: C19-20
Nov. 21 C21: Extinct South American orders
Croft (1999)

Nov. 26
L12: Extinct South American orders (OL)

Zoo lab due
Nov. 27
(No class)

Nov. 28 (No class: Thanksgiving)

Dec. 3 REVIEW 1

Quiz 11: C 21
Dec. 5 REVIEW 2

Dec. 10
Final Exam, 12:30-3:30 pm
** Classroom B, CMNH **

Required Textbooks and Other Resources
  • V: Vaughan, T.A., J.M. Ryan, and N.J. Czaplewski. 2010. Mammalogy, 5th Edition. Jones and Bartlett.
  • M: MacDonald, D.W. 2009. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Mammals. Princeton University Press.
  • W: Wiley, E.O., D. Siegel-Causey, D.R. Brooks, and V.A. Funk. 1991. The Compleat Cladist; a Primer of Phylogenetic Procedures. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Special Publication No. 19. Available on Blackboard.
  • DVD: The Life of Mammals. 2003. Hosted by David Attenborough. Four volumes, 10 parts in total. BBC. Videos are available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video and will be put on KSL Course Reserves if necessary.
      Most classes will be led by two undergraduate or one graduate student. At the beginning of the semester, students will submit their top four choices for classes to lead, and an effort will be made to accommodate such preferences. Students who are not leading class on a particular day are still expected to complete the assigned readings and watch the assigned videos prior to each class (except for the first day of the course) in order to actively participate in the discussions. Each class will have the following format:
     Overview Presentation (20 min.). This should be PPT-based with many images and little text. Digital versions of the figures in the Vaughn et al. textbook will be made available, but students are encouraged to use additional resources. The presentation should provide a general overview of the group including: diversity and relevant families; evolutionary relationships; fossil record; recognition characteristics (especially skull and external morphology); geographic range; and Ohio representatives (if applicable). The presentation is an introduction, not a thorough treatment. It will be timed and should adhere to the schedule.
     Presentation Discussion (30 min.). This will permit a more detailed treatment of topics presented in the lecture overview. The class leaders for the day will direct the discussion, which should emphasize form-function relationships including: skeletal anatomy, soft tissue anatomy, diet, size and body mass, locomotion, special adaptations, and ecological niche. Images may be projected to help facilitate discussion.
     Research Article Discussion (25 min.). One article will be assigned for each class that highlights recent research on one of the groups discussed in class that day. Students should come to class prepared to discuss that day’s article.

     Osteology Labs (OL) will focus on osteology of extant mammal groups and will be held at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. These labs will use specimens from the research collections of the CMNH. To prevent damage to these specimens, no touching will be permitted. Activities and observations from osteology labs should be recorded in a lab notebook (see below). Students are free to bring a camera to take photographs of specimens for future reference. Additionally, an online, photographic guide to mammal skulls is available that has been developed for this course.
     Phylogenetics labs (PL) will focus on understanding modern phylogenetic techniques and will be computer-based, taking place in Clapp 304. NOTE: You should download Phylip (a free program) for the first phylogenetics lab.

     The Zoo Lab can be completed individually or in conjunction with the class field trip to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The class trip will take place on a Saturday or Sunday during the semester on a date to be determined by consensus.

Student Assessment
     Quizzes (25% of final grade): Most labs will begin with a short quiz (10-15 points, short answer and/or multiple-choice questions) covering the previous week’s lectures, readings associated with those lectures, and videos. Details of the schedule and content are noted on the syllabus. Each student’s lowest quiz score will be dropped from the final grade.
     Lab Reports (15% of final grade): The two phylogenetics labs and the zoo lab will each have an associated lab report. Some aspects of the report will be completed during lab, others will require additional out-of-class time. Phylogenetics lab reports will be due one week later (at the beginning of class on the following Thursday). The zoo lab can be completed at any time during the semester but must be handed in no later than November 26. The three labs will be weighted equally.
     Lab Notebook (20% of final grade): Students should maintain a notebook for all osteology labs in order to practice and develop their observational skills. At a minimum, it should include: (1) sketches and anatomical descriptions of lab specimens; and (2) responses to lab guide questions, including justifications. The notebook can be submitted in any format (e.g., lab notebook, 3-ring binder, PDF file), and may include additional information. It will be handed in for an ungraded “check-in” on Sept. 19th to ensure that all students are meeting expectations. The notebook will be due on the day of the final exam and will primarily be graded on completeness and effort put into observations, descriptions, and conclusions.
     Midterm and Final Exams (15% and 25% of final grade, respectively): These exams will cover class and lab material and will take place at the CMNH (see syllabus). Each will have three components: (1) identification of osteological specimens (mainly skulls) to order and family; (2) identification of photos of living mammals to family, plus associated short answer questions (e.g., size, diet, habitat, geographic range, order, etc., of that particular animal); and (3) written exam, mostly short answer questions (e.g., definitions, compare/contrast), basic phylogenetic methods, and some multiple choice questions. The midterm exam will cover material through Oct. 2nd. The final will be comprehensive.
     Class Engagement: Class presentations and other involvement will be subjectively factored in to each student’s final grade based on the assessment of the instructor and the teaching assistant.

Additional Requirements for Graduate Students (enrolled in ANAT/BIOL 445):
      Paleo Presentations: Graduate students will give two short (12-15 minute) presentations on the anatomy and paleobiology of: (1) an extinct mammal species/group; or (2) the fossil record of a group of living mammals. The presentation should be based on at least one paper from the primary literature. Presentations will take place during lab time and must be scheduled by Sept. 5th. Only one presentation can be scheduled per lab. Topics must be approved at least two weeks in advance of the presentation date. A draft of the slides can be presented for review up to two days before the presentation (this is optional).
     Skull Guide Data: Graduate students will gather information from the primary literature for 10 families and/or subfamilies for the on-line guide to mammal skulls that has been developed for this course. Families and/or subfamilies must be selected by September 26th, and content (with citations) must be handed in by November 5th

How to Succeed in This Course
  • Do the assigned readings and scan the relevant handouts before class. This will facilitate learning by making you familiar with the groups and names to be discussed.
  • Learn the names and proper spellings of the groups we discuss in class. Taxonomy is how the great diversity of mammals is organized. You cannot learn about mammals without learning names of groups. Make flash cards if you think they will be helpful, or download a flash card app for your smart phone.
  • Learn or review the bones of the skull and skeleton. We will have a lab on this early in the course, but one session will not be enough for you to really learn them and their parts. Sketching bones is a great strategy for learning anatomy.
  • Appreciate the detailed structure of teeth. Few aspects of a mammal’s anatomy are as important as its teeth. They provide information about ancestry (evolutionary relationships) as well as ecology (diet). Learn how to recognize different types of teeth (incisors, canines, etc.) and how to describe them. As for bones, sketching teeth is an effective strategy.
  • For information on mammals, bear in mind that sources vary, and that the field is constantly changing. In general, more recent references will be more accurate. When in doubt, ask or refer to class notes or texts.
  • What should you know about each group by the end of this course? Generally speaking:
    • Taxonomy and Phylogeny: What is the group’s name? Where does it fit into the taxonomic hierarchy? How is it related to other groups?
    • Biogeography: Where do these animals live on the globe?
    • Ecology: What do these animals eat? How big are they? How do they move and where do they spend their time? In what types of habitats do they live?
    • Identification: How can you recognize a member of this group?
    • Fossil record: What do fossils tell us about the evolution of the group, including the topics noted above?
  • In general, you should focus on topics mentioned in class and lab. This may not cover everything you need to know, but it should address the vast majority of material.
Handy Web Sites (suggestions welcome):
  • Animal Diversity Web (U. of Michigan): Lots of information on specific taxa plus general information on teeth, bones, etc.
  • Australian Mammal Skulls (Museum Victoria): great photos of mammal skulls, mostly marsupials
  • BIOSIS (OhioLINK): bibliographic service for biological sciences (including mammalogy)
  • Digimorph (U. of Texas): NSF-supported site with digitally rendered CT images of many animals, including mammals
  • ESkeletons (U. of Texas): NSF-supported site with photos of primate postcranial bones and some skulls
  • Extreme Mammals (American Museum of Natural History): an excellent exhibit highlighting mammalian diversity
  • Mammals of Australia (Australian Government): PDFs of Australian mammal families with nice images and references
  • GeoRef (OhioLINK): bibliographic service for geological sciences (including paleontology)
  • ISI Web of Knowledge (OhioLINK): bibliographic service for general science; mostly recent articles
  • Mammal Images (American Society of Mammalogists): many excellent mammal photos
  • Mammal Crania (Dokkyo U.): photo archive with lots of mammal crania, many of very high resolution
  • Mammal Species of the World (Smithsonian): taxonomy of all described species of extant mammals
  • Mammalian Lexicon (Michigan State): an interesting list of the meanings of family-level and higher mammal names
  • Mammalian Species (American Society of Mammalogists): detailed accounts (PDFs) of more than 800 species of mammals. Newer accounts require institutional access.
  • Mammalogy Database (UMass): neat site with useful taxonomic characters and photos of mammal skulls
  • Ohio Mammals (Ohio DNR): nice descriptions of Ohio's more common mammals
  • Phylip: software package for computing phylogenies and doing other useful things related to systematics
  • Tooth Morphology: good pictures and explanations of teeth from the Animal Diversity Web (see above)
  • Will's Skull Page (private): lots of nice mammal skull photos (many of British mammals) and descriptions

Other Recommended Texts (suggestions welcome)
  • Elbroch, M. 2006. Animal Skulls: A Guide to North American Species. Stackpole Books. (A good book with nice photographs of skulls, also provides characters distinguishing different species.)
  • Feldhamer, G.A., L.C. Drickamer, S.H. Vessey, and J.F. Merritt. 2007. Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. (An alternative mammalogy textbook.)
  • Felsenstein, J. 2003. Inferring Phylogenies. Sinauer Associates, Inc. (A book detailing phylogentetics.)
  • Hutchins, M., D.G. Kleiman, V. Geist, and M. C. McDade (Eds.). 2003. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Volumes 12-16, Mammals I-V. Gale Group. (An excellent resource on mammals, though a bit difficult to find and quite expensive; five volumes on mammals, but others on birds, fishes, etc.)
  • Lawlor, T.E. 1979. Handbook to the Orders and Families of Living Mammals. Mad River Press. (Nice succinct summaries of mammal families with distinguishing characters.)
  • Martin, R.E., R. Pine, and A.F. DeBlase. 2000. A Manual of Mammalogy with Keys to Families of the World, 3rd Edition McGraw-Hill. (A mammalogy lab manual with some helpful keys.)
  • Nowak, M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World, 6th Edition. The John Hopkins University Press. (The standard reference for information on mammals, now a two volume set of more than 2000 pages.)
  • Wilson, D.E. and D.M. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World, 3rd Edition. John Hopkins University Press. (The latest comprehensive word on extant mammal taxonomy.)
  • Rose, K.D., and J.D. Archibald. 2005. The Rise of Placental Mammals. The John Hopkins University Press. (A required textbook for graduate students; an edited volume with succinct yet detailed overviews of mammal ordinal diversification.)

This page was last updated on September 9, 2013.