Friday, April 9, 2010

More on Pleistocene rodents

Dorothea Bate (1878-1951) was a British explorer and palaeontologist whose main interests were Mediterranean Pleistocene mammals. The first woman scientist to hold a permanent post at the Natural History Museum in London, she discovered and named a number of new species from Crete, Cyprus, Malta and the Balearic Islands.

Two Pleistocene vole species bearing her authorship are known from deposits in Għar Dalam, Malta. Voles, from the rodent family Cricetidae, are very similar to mice, but have a stouter body and a hairy tail. They are nowadays extinct from the Maltese Islands - Gulia (1858; 1890) and some subsequent authors list the vole Arvicola amphibius (L., 1758) as occurring in Malta, but this statement is not supported in any way, either by more recent authors on mammals (Lanfranco, 1969) or by the present writer's observations.

The fossil species named by Dorothea Bate are Terricola melitensis (Bate, 1920) and Terricola pauli (Bate, 1935), both originally placed in the Pitymys genus before it was known that this actually indigenous to North America (Chaline et al., 1999, Kotsakis, 2004). T. melitensis is closely related to Terricola savii (de Sélys-Longchamps, 1838), shown above, which nowadays lives mainly along the Italian peninsula (Brunet-Lecomte & Chaline, 1992; Chaline et al., 1999; Wilson & Reeder, 2005). T. pauli is a large enigmatic species with less obvious affinities, and indeed with a name not encountered much in the literature. The figure of the holotype from Bate's original description is reproduced below.


Bate, D. M. A., 1920. Note on a new vole and other remains from the Ghar Dalam Cavern, Malta. Geological Magazine, 57: 208-211.

Bate, D. M. A., 1935. Two new mammals from the Pleistocene of Malta, with notes on the associated fauna. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 247-264.

Brunet-Lecomte, P. & Chaline, J., 1992. Morphological convergences versus biochemical divergences in the holarctic ground voles: Terricola and Pitymys (Arvicolidae, Rodentia). Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, 12: 721-734.

Chaline, J., Brunet-Lecomte, P., Montuire, S., Viriot, L., & Courant, F., 1999. Anatomy of the arvicoline radiation (Rodentia): palaeogeographical, palaeoecological history and evolutionary data. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 36: 239–267.

Gulia, G., 1858. Repertorio di Storia Naturale. Malta, 68 pp.

Gulia, G., 1890. Elenco dei Mammiferi Maltesi. Il Naturalista Maltese, 1 (1): 2-3.

Kotsakis, T., 2004. The Plio-Pleistocene rodents of the Mediterranean islands: origin and evolution. 18th Senckenberg Conference 2004 in Weimar.

Lanfranco, G., 1969. Maltese mammals (Central Mediterranean). Malta: Progress Press, 36 pp.

Wilson, D. E. & Reeder, D. M. [eds], 2005. Mammal Species of the World - A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference [3rd edition]. Johns Hopkins University Press, 142 pp.

Picture of Terricola savii (de Sélys-Longchamps, 1838) from

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