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A Production of

Saiga tatarica, Saiga Antelope
Mr. Andrew Clifford - Ohio University, currently Brown University
Lawrence M. Witmer - Ohio University, Athens, OH
Saiga tatarica
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American Museum of Natural History (AMNH 202492)

Image processing: Mr. Ryan Ridgely
Publication Date: 19 Oct 2004


Clifford, A. B., and L. M. Witmer. 2004. Case studies in novel narial anatomy: 3. Structure and function of the nasal cavity of saiga (Artiodactyla: Bovidae: Saiga tatarica. Journal of Zoology 264:217-230.


Much of the narial anatomy of the enigmatic antelope Saiga tatarica has been described by previous workers. However, the anatomy of the nasal cavity and the causally-associated osteological correlates of proboscis structure require closer attention, because these data are integral for both a more comprehensive understanding of saiga functional morphology and more robust reconstructions of proboscis structure in fossil taxa. Saiga and outgroup specimens were subjected to X-ray computed tomographic (CT) imaging, gross dissection, and skeletonization. The nasal cavity of saiga is characterised by an enlarged nasal vestibule and basal conchal fold. Many structures (e.g., turbinates, lateral cartilages, mucosal folds, nasolacrimal duct) are retracted caudally to a small area in the caudodorsal part of the nasal cavity proper. The enlarged vestibule is associated laterally and ventrally with paired sacs. slicesThe nasal septum is largely membranous and contains a large patch of cavernous tissue that serves as a dynamic baffle modifying the flow of inspired air. Bones comprising the narial margin have modified attachment sites for buccinator group muscles and the reduced lateral cartilages. The premaxilla is greatly modified by the enlarged musculature associated with nasolabial fusion. Maintenance of the topological relationships of narial structures compared to bovid outgroups has resulted in a nasal cavity with much larger area for seromucous glands of the vestibule as well as narial musculature capable of controlling the aperture of the nasal cavity. Maxillolabial muscles and the lateralis nasi act together to both slicescompress the nasal cavity and control the dilation of the nostrils such that air flow through the cavity is highly modified relative to bovid outgroups. The lateral vestibular recess is an outpocketing of the nasal vestibule that produces supplementary seromucous secretions and appears to have no homologue among outgroups. The enlarged nasal vestibule, lateral vestibular recess, repositioned basal fold, and septal cavernous mass are regarded as a coordinated adaptation to dusty habitats, such that nasal air flow can be dynamically regulated allowing for collection of inspired particulates in the vestibule and thus cleansing of air destined for the lungs.

Saiga (Saiga tatarica) are a relatively little studied but morphologically disparate group of antelopes. Bovidae (e.g., antelopes, cattle) have undergone a dramatic radiation in the past 18 million years, now encompassing 135 species (Vrba & Schaller, 2000). Previously of varying affiliation (e.g., Caprinae in Nowak, 1999), saiga are now regarded as members of Antilopinae within Bovidae (Vrba & Schaller, 2000). Saiga have been difficult to place phylogenetically because they are bizarrely apomorphic, particularly in the head and skull as a result of their evolution of unique narial structures. Like many other antelopes, only males possess horns, but their most distinguishing characteristic, a conspicuous proboscis, is possessed by both males and females. The inflated proboscis of saiga provides a case study in the evolution of novel narial anatomy within an otherwise morphologically and phylogenetically well resolved clade.

Saiga are a relatively young species, first occurring in middle Pleistocene deposits approximately 1.0 million years ago, although some authors (Heptner, Nasimovich & Bannikow, 1988) speculated that this genus may occur as far back as the late Pliocene. Only one other species of Saiga is currently recognised (S. prisca), although the Mongolian population previously received species rank (Heptner et al., 1988). Generally, fossil saiga are virtually identical to Recent forms, differing mostly in geographical range (Sokolov, 1974). Occurring now only in open, dusty, arid grasslands of central Asia, their range once extended from the British Isles to eastern Alaska (Frick, 1937).

About the Species

The intact head came from a zoo specimen, and later was preserved as a fluid specimen at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH 202492).

About this Specimen

Prior to dissection, the intact specimen was subjected twice to X-ray computed tomography (CT) at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio, using a GE HiSpeed Fx-i Helical CT Scanner. The first scan was set at 140.0 kV, 170.0 mA, 5.0 mm slice thickness, using both standard and bone algorithms. The second scan was set at 140.0 kV, 160.0 mA, 2.0 mm slice thickness, using a bone algorithm. CT data were exported in DICOM format using eFilm (v. 1.5.3, Merge eFilm, Toronto). Analysis and postprocessing employed the software packages eFilm (v. 1.8.3) and Amira (v. 3.0, TGS, Inc., San Diego). Both sectional anatomy and 3D reconstructions derived from the slice data were analysed. Study of the head also included gross dissection and sagittal sectioning with a band saw. Following sagittal sectioning, the right side was CT scanned a third time (120.0 kV, 130.0 mA, 1.0 mm slice thickness, bone algorithm).

About the


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& Links

Spin with transparent skin and opaque airway:

Spin with transparent skin and colored paranasal sinuses:

"Zooming" animation of airway and paranasal sinuses:

Spinning animation of artiodactyl sinuses:


To cite this page: Mr. Andrew Clifford, Lawrence M. Witmer - Ohio University, Athens, OH, 2004, "Saiga tatarica" (On-line), Digital Morphology. Accessed July 21, 2024 at http://digimorph.org/specimens/Saiga_tatarica/.

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