Diversity Of Mandibular Morphology In Some Carnivorans

Open access

Abstract

Comparison of mandibular morphology of some aquatic (seals, walruses, and sea otters) and terrestrial (hyenas and pandas) carnivorans demonstrates a rather general pattern correlating size of condyloid angle, size of gape, and diet. Structural differences of carnivoran jaws reveal morphological and ecological adaptations that are directly correlated with availability of prey, diving depth, feeding competition and specialized feeding methods. Specifically, the inclination of the condyloid process relative to the axis of the alveolar row (= condyloid angle) can be used to determine dietary preferences, including size of prey. Generally, carnivorans with a large condyloid angle feed on larger prey, while a low condyloid angle suggests feeding on small prey or can be an advantageous feeding mechanism. Mirounga angustirostris (Northern elephant seal) displays sex-specific characters in cranial and postcranial elements. Likewise, significant sexually dimorphic differences in the size of condyloid angle imply that deeper-diving male Northern elephant seals have a feeding niche dissimilar to that of females. Morphological assessment of male M. angustirostris suggests they are bottom-feeding seals that utilize a suction-feeding mechanism to capture small prey and crush shells with their teeth, which become weaker as they age.

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