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A well-preserved cranium from the Judith River Formation (Montana, USA) reveals the inner ear and neuroanatomy of a Campanian baenid turtle.

A cranium belonging to a baenid turtle was recently recovered from the lower half of the Judith River Formation, Montana. Badlands Dinosaur Museum (BDM) 004 is a well-preserved partial cranium that includes the posterior cranial vault, cranial base, and otic capsules. Based on diagnostic characters, the skull can be attributed to Plesiobaena antiqua, which has been previously reported from the Judith River Formation. It also shares with palatobaenines projecting posterior processes of the tubercula basioccipitale and a prominent condylus occipitalis with a deep central pit, demonstrating variation within the Pl. antiqua hypodigm. In a phylogenetic analysis, an operational taxonomic unit of BDM 004 was positioned within Baenodda in an unresolved polytomy with Pl. antiqua, Edowa zuniensis, Palatobaeninae, and Eubaeninae. Microcomputed tomographic (μCT) scans revealed morphology of the middle and inner ear and endocast that are largely unknown in baenids. Semicircular canals of BDM 004 are virtually identical to those of Eubaena cephalica and consistent in dimensions to those of other turtle taxa, including anterior and posterior semicircular canals that are robust and taller than the common crus and diverge from each other at an angle of approximately 90°. The digital endocast reveals a moderately flexed brain with rounded cerebral hemispheres and minimal separation between the metencephalon and myelencephalon. Its well-preserved columella auris (stapes) is gracile with a posterodorsally flared basis columella. It arcs across the middle ear and flattens near its terminus. This study adds to the understanding of baenid middle and inner ear and neuroanatomical morphology and expands the morphological understanding of Pl. antiqua.

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