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Keywords:

  • Carnivora;
  • jaw mechanics;
  • carnassial;
  • model

The jaw mechanism of carnivores is studied using an idealized model (Greaves, 1978). The model assumes: (i) muscle activity on both sides of the head, and (ii) that the jaw joints and the carnassial teeth are single points of contact between the skull and the lower jaw during carnassial biting. The model makes the following predictions: (i) in carnivores with carnassial teeth the resultant force of the jaw muscles will be positioned approximately 60% of the way from the jaw joint to the tooth—this arrangement delivers the maximum bite force possible together with a reasonably wide gape (remembering that bite force and gape cannot both be maximized); (ii) in an evolutionary sense, if greater bite force is required at the carnassial tooth, either the animal will get larger so as to deliver an absolutely larger bite force or the architecture of the muscles may change, becoming more pinnate, for example, but jaw geometry (i.e. the relative positions of the jaw joints, the carnassial tooth, and the muscle resultant force) will not change; (iii) if greater gape is required, the animal will get larger so as to have longer jaws and therefore an absolutely wider gape or change its muscle architecture allowing for greater stretch while the geometry remains unchanged; and (iv) in animals with a longer shearing region (e.g. the extinct hyaenodonts) the shearing region will be approximately 20% of jaw length and the muscle resultant force will be positioned approximately 60% of the way from the jaw joint to the most anterior shearing tooth.