Although common tree shrews have long been considered a model system for early eutherian mastication, little information on mandibular movement patterns relative to specific food types has been reported. Detailed analysis of mandibular movement patterns when related to resulting attrition facets may permit more accurate extrapolations regarding the dietary habits of primitive mammals.
Marker beads were sewn to chins of five animals that were placed in a restraint system and filmed while they fully masticated mealworm larvae and standardized pieces of banana, almond, and commercial cat chow. These sequences were divided into early, middle, and late thirds of food reduction. Mandibular positions from both frontal and lateral perspectives were digitized frame by frame to yield plots of orbits in three dimensions as well as graphic display of displacements, velocities, and accelerations. Plot coordinates were averaged to generate composite orbital shapes.
Significant (p < 0.01) findings included: (1) shortest orbital durations and greatest peak closing velocities and accelerations in early third of reduction; (2) smallest maximum gape, smallest maximum lateral excursion from midline, and longest duration of powerstroke relative to orbital duration in late third of reduction; (3) shortest orbital durations and smallest maximum gape during mastication of chow; (4) greatest maximum lateral excursion during mastication of mealworm larvae; and (5) smallest peak closing accelerations during mastication of banana. Significant differences were also found among subjects for all parameters examined.
Capacity for complex jaw movement may have been critical for allowing primitive molars to be used for trituration of a variety of food types, and may have preceded evolution of more specialized molar forms.