Mammals are vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia, and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex (a region of the brain), fur or hair, and three middle ear bones.
In total there are 99 species of mammals known to inhabit, or recently to have inhabited, the state of Florida and its surrounding waters.
This includes a few species, such as the black-tailed jackrabbit and red deer, that were introduced after the European colonization of the Americas. It also includes the extinct Caribbean monk seal. Rodents account for roughly one quarter of all species, followed closely by mammals from the Cetacea and Carnivora families.
Information & Facts:
The basic body type is quadruped, and most mammals use their four extremities for terrestrial locomotion; but in some, the extremities are adapted for life at sea, in the air, in trees, underground, or on two legs. Mammals range in size from the 30–40 mm (1.2–1.6 in) bumblebee bat to the 30-meter (98 ft) blue whale—the largest animal on the planet. Maximum lifespan varies from two years for the shrew to 211 years for the bowhead whale. All modern mammals give birth to live young, except the five species of monotremes, which are egg-laying mammals. The most species-rich group of mammals, the cohort called placentals, have a placenta, which enables the feeding of the fetus during gestation.
Most mammals are intelligent, with some possessing large brains, self-awareness, and tool use. Mammals can communicate and vocalize in several different ways, including the production of ultrasound, scent-marking, alarm signals, singing, and echolocation. Mammals can organize themselves into fission-fusion societies, harems, and hierarchies—but can also be solitary and territorial. Most mammals are polygynous, but some can be monogamous or polyandrous.
Living mammal species can be identified by the presence of sweat glands, including those that are specialized to produce milk to nourish their young. In classifying fossils, however, other features must be used, since soft tissue glands and many other features are not visible in fossils.
Many traits shared by all living mammals appeared among the earliest members of the group:
- Jaw joint – The dentary (the lower jaw bone, which carries the teeth) and the squamosal (a small cranial bone) meet to form the joint. In most gnathostomes, including early therapsids, the joint consists of the articular (a small bone at the back of the lower jaw) and quadrate (a small bone at the back of the upper jaw).
- Middle Ear – In crown-group mammals, sound is carried from the eardrum by a chain of three bones, the malleus, the incus and the stapes. Ancestrally, the malleus and the incus are derived from the articular and the quadrate bones that constituted the jaw joint of early therapsids.
- Tooth Replacement – Teeth are replaced once or (as in toothed whales and murid rodents) not at all, rather than being replaced continually throughout life.
- Prismatic Enamel – The enamel coating on the surface of a tooth consists of prisms, solid, rod-like structures extending from the dentin to the tooth’s surface.
- Occipital Condyles – Two knobs at the base of the skull fit into the topmost neck vertebra; most other tetrapods, in contrast, have only one such knob.
For the most part, these characteristics were not present in the Triassic ancestors of the mammals. Nearly all mammaliaforms possess an epipubic bone, the exception being modern placentals.
Nearly all mammals are endothermic (“warm-blooded”). Most mammals also have hair to help keep them warm. Like birds, mammals can forage or hunt in weather and climates too cold for ectothermic (“cold-blooded”) reptiles and insects. Endothermy requires plenty of food energy, so mammals eat more food per unit of body weight than most reptiles.
Small insectivorous mammals eat prodigious amounts for their size. A rare exception, the naked mole-rat produces little metabolic heat, so it is considered an operational poikilotherm. Birds are also endothermic, so endothermy is not unique to mammals.
The mammary glands of mammals are specialized to produce milk, the primary source of nutrition for newborns.
The monotremes branched early from other mammals and do not have the nipples seen in most mammals, but they do have mammary glands. The young lick the milk from a mammary patch on the mother’s belly.
Compared to placental mammals, the milk of marsupials changes greatly in both production rate and in nutrient composition, due to the underdeveloped young. In addition, the mammary glands have more autonomy allowing them to supply separate milks to young at different development stages. Lactose is the main sugar in placental mammal milk while monotreme and marsupial milk is dominated by oligosaccharides. “Weaning” is the process in which a mammal becomes less dependent on their mother’s milk and more on solid food.