The relationship between bending stress and the shape of maxillary canines in cercopithecoid monkeys



Primate canines function in social displays but are also recruited for biting in agonistic encounters. Although the precise nature of the loads such behavior places on the canine crown is unknown, it is thought that bending is a major component of such loads. To date, modeling of canine bending strength has relied on idealized geometric representations. Accounting for the tapering of the crown as well as shape changes along an apical–basal axis provides a more realistic model for assessment of bending stress in canines. We provide such an accounting and evaluate the hypothesis that the morphology of the cercopithecoid canine represents a structural solution for maintaining constant maximum bending stress under apical or distributed loading in a parasagittal plane. This isostress hypothesis is analogous to a design criterion of minimum mass for a given structural requirement. Examining permanent maxillary canines from males and females representing eight West African cercopithecoid species, we reconstructed crown geometry from apex to base using microcomputed tomography. From reconstructed cross-sections, we determined section moduli about a buccolingual centroidal axis. We then determined what the taper should be for a variety of parasagittal loading distributions if the isostress hypothesis were true and compared these theoretical tapers to actual crown geometry. We found that a variety of loading distributions can be accommodated by the canines, particularly among males. These results suggest that our sample of canines are not optimized for resisting particular biting loads, but effectively limit stress gradients associated with a range of behaviors. Am J Phys Anthropol 154:61–69, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.