Bite club: comparative bite force in big biting mammals and the prediction of predatory behaviour in fossil taxa

Stephen Wroe, Colin McHenry, Jeffrey Thomason

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We provide the first predictions of bite force (BS) in a wide sample of living and fossil mammalian predators. To compare between taxa, we calculated an estimated bite force quotient (BFQ) as the residual of BS regressed on body mass. Estimated BS adjusted for body mass was higher for marsupials than placentals and the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) had the highest relative BS among extant taxa. The highest overall BS was in two extinct marsupial lions. BFQ in hyaenas were similar to those of related, non-osteophagous taxa challenging the common assumption that osteophagy necessitates extreme jaw muscle forces. High BFQ in living carnivores was associated with greater maximal prey size and hypercarnivory. For fossil taxa anatomically similar to living relatives, BFQ can be directly compared, and high values in the dire wolf (Canis dirus) and thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) suggest that they took relatively large prey. Direct inference may not be appropriate where morphologies depart widely from biomechanical models evident in living predators and must be considered together with evidence from other morphological indicators. Relatively low BFQ values in two extinct carnivores with morphologies not represented among extant species, the sabrecat, Smilodon fatalis, and marsupial sabretooth, Thylacosmilus atrox, support arguments that their killing techniques also differed from extant species and are consistent with canine-shear bite and stabbing models, respectively. Extremely high BFQ in the marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, indicates that it filled a large-prey hunting niche.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619 - 625
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1563
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

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