Abstract

The Leptarctinae are an enigmatic subfamily of mustelids present in North America and Eurasia during the Miocene (Arikareean to Hemphillian North American Land Mammal Ages). Their diet and ecology have been particularly controversial. Some workers have suggested they were similar to koalas, whereas others suggested they were crushing omnivores analogous to raccoons. Leptarctus oregonensis Stock, 1930, a poorly known leptarctine from the early Barstovian, is represented by fragmented cranial elements and isolated teeth from the Mascall Formation of Oregon, and some fairly complete but undescribed material from the Olcott Formation of western Nebraska. Herein, we describe the first well-preserved skull of L. oregonensis from the type formation. Based on this new specimen, we confirm that L. oregonensis is a distinct species from L. primus Leidy, 1856 and L. ancipidens White, 1941 that is characterized by a distinct morphology of its tympanic projections and first upper molars. We are also able to describe intraspecific variation within L. oregonensis coinciding with the geographic distribution of the specimens (Oregon and Nebraska). The most variable characters are concentrated in the morphology of the frontals and the upper fourth premolar. Additional specimens will be needed to settle the debate over sexual dimorphism in this species, but this new specimen suggests that Leptarctus oregonensis, despite being one of the smallest members of the Leptarctinae, was an animal-dominated omnivore with considerable crushing ability.

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