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Abstract

The masticatory pattern of Sphenodon punctatus, the sole remaining rhynchocephalian, now restricted to islands off the coast of New Zealand, has been analyzed by detailed anatomy, cinematography, cinefluoroscopy, and electromyography. Food reduction consists of a closing, crushing bite followed by a propalineal sliding of the dentary row between the maxillary and palatine ones. The large, fleshy tongue can be protruded to pick up small prey, and also plays a major role in prey manipulation. The rotational closing movement of the jaw, supporting the basic crushing movement, is induced by the main adductor musculature. It is followed by a propalineal anterior displacement relying heavily on the action of the M. pterygoideus. The fiber lengths of the several muscles reflect the extent of shortening. The most obvious modification appears in the M. pterygoideus, which contains a central slip of pinnately arranged short fibers that act a period different from that of the rest of the muscle; their action increases the power during the terminal portion of the propalineal phase. This also allows the animal to use its short teeth in an effective shearing bite that cuts fragments off large prey.

The action of single cusped dentary teeth acting between the maxillary and palatine tooth rows provides a translational crushing-cutting action that may be an analog of the mammalian molar pattern. However, this strictly fore-aft slide does not incorporate capacity for later development of lateral movement.