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 Period 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: