Marsupial carditids of the subfamily Thecaliinae are characterized by the presence of an “incubatory chamber” in female shells, where the eggs hatch and develop during their first stages. According to recent phylogenetic studies, Thecaliinae are closely related to Carditinae, a group that has a byssal gape. This structure occurs in the same area as the incubatory chamber, and both structures could be evolutionarily related. Using the newest phylogenetic context for the subfamilies, we test whether the incubatory chamber of Thecaliinae is related to characters present in Carditinae. We also provided a more precise definition of the implied structures. Two distinct morphologies for the incubatory chamber are described: one with an exteriorly opened pouch (present in the genera Powellina and Milneria) and the other with a completely internal funicular infold (present in Thecalia). The byssal gape is present in the Cardiobyssata clade (Carditamerinae + (Carditinae + Thecaliinae)), and we discuss whether the incubatory chamber could be the result of an exaptation event, and the possible evolutionary pathways implied. According to the present evidence, we propose a co-optation of the byssal gape into a new function (brooding of larvae) at some point during the transition from the Carditinae to the Thecaliinae lineages, thus determining an exaptation. Adaptative processes probably modified this structure into the incubatory chamber (an external pouch first, and a funicular infold later). We discuss alternative scenarios and implications on phylogenetic studies and the importance of considering non-adaptative evolutionary scenarios in the study of evolutionary narratives.

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