Craniodental indicators of prey size preference in the Felidae

Authors


E-mail: jmeachen@ucla.edu

Abstract

In the present study, we used linear morphometrics of the crania, mandible and dentition to explore the association between craniodental shape and prey size among 35 species of living felids. To accomplish this, felids were divided into three prey-size groups: (1) large prey specialists; (2) small prey specialists; and (3) mixed prey feeders. From these linear measurements, large prey specialist felids can be distinguished from small and mixed prey feeders by their relatively robust canines and incisors and relatively wide muzzles. These cranial characters are advantageous when dispatching large prey, due to the stranglehold that cats employ during this activity. Robust canines resist the bending and torsional forces applied by struggling prey and a wider muzzle helps to stabilize grip and distribute bite forces more evenly during the killing bite. Small prey specialists had smaller canines, narrower muzzles and slightly longer jaws for a speed advantage when catching small, quick prey. Mixed prey feeders were intermediate between large and small prey specialists, indicating they are adapted to killing both sizes of prey. Given the success of this ecomorphological analysis of living felids that specialize on different prey sizes, we look forward to applying this same approach to extinct species. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 96, 784–799.

Ancillary