Within clariid fishes several cranial morphologies can be discerned. Especially within anguilliform representatives an increase in the degree of hypertrophy of the jaw adductors occurs. The hypertrophy of the jaw adductors and skeletal modifications in the cranial elements have been linked to increased bite force. The functional significance of this supposed increase in bite force remains obscure. In this study, biomechanical modeling of the cranial apparatus in four clariid representatives showing a gradual increase in the hypertrophy of the jaw adductors (Clarias gariepinus, Clariallabes melas, Channallabes apus, and Gymnallabes typus) is used to investigate whether bite force actually increased. Static bite modeling shows that the apparent hypertrophy results in an increase in bite force. For a given head size, the largest bite forces are predicted for C. apus, the lowest ones for C. gariepinus, and intermediate values are calculated for the other species. In addition, also in absolute measures differences in bite force remain, with C. apus biting distinctly harder than C. gariepinus despite its smaller head size. This indicates that the hypertrophy of the jaw adductors is more than just a correlated response to the decrease in absolute head size. Further studies investigating the ecological relevance of this performance difference are needed. J. Morphol. 253:196–205, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.