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The skull can be divided into two parts: the cranium and the mandible. A skull that is missing a mandible is only a cranium; this is the source of a very commonly made error in terminology. Those animals having skulls are called craniates.
Functions of the skull include protection of the brain, fixing the distance between the eyes to allow stereoscopic vision, and fixing the position of the ears to help the brain use auditory cues to judge direction and distance of sounds. In some animals, the skull also has a defensive function (e.g. horned ungulates); the frontal bone is where horns are mounted.
The temporal fenestra are anatomical features of the amniote skull, characterised by bilaterally symmetrical holes (fenestrae) in the temporal bone. Depending on the lineage of a given animal, two, one, or no pairs of temporal fenestrae may be present, above or below the postorbital and squamosal bones. The upper temporal fenestrae are also known as the supratemporal fenestrae, and the lower temporal fenestrae are also known as the infratemporal fenestrae. The presence and morphology of the temporal fenestra is critical for taxonomic classification of the synapsids, of which mammals are part.
Physiological speculation associates it with a rise in metabolic rates and an increase in jaw musculature. The earlier amniotes of the Carboniferous did not have temporal fenestrae but two more advanced lines did: The Synapsids (mammal-like reptiles) and the Diapsids (most reptiles and later birds). As time progressed, diapsids' and synapsids' temporal fenestrae became more modified and larger to make stronger bites and more jaw muscles. Dinosaurs, which are sauropsids, have large advanced openings and their descendants, the birds, have temporal fenestrae which have been modified. Mammals, which are synapsids, possess no fenestral openings in the skull, as the trait has been modified. They do, though, still have the temporal orbit (which resembles an opening) and the temporal muscles. It is a hole in the head and is situated to the rear of the orbit behind the eye.
There are four types of amniote skull, classified by the number and location of their fenestra. These are:
- Anapsida - no openings
- Synapsida - one low opening (beneath the postorbital and squamosal bones)
- Euryapsida - one high opening (above the postorbital and squamosal bones); euryapsids actually evolved from a diapsid configuration, losing their lower temporal fenestra.
- Diapsida - two openings
Evolutionary, they are related as follows:
- Bone terminology
- Anatomical terms of location
- Head and neck anatomy
- Phrenology, the pseudoscientific process of determining personality from the shape of the head.
- Skull (symbolism)
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- Skull preparation and curation (An excellent site with information about skull and skeleton cleaning and articulation with wonderful photos)
- Animal Skull Collection (Over 300 animal skull images compiled by U.S. high-school teacher)
- Ray Bandar: A Life With Skulls Film about California animal skull collector Ray Bandar
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