• bone cracking;
  • Canidae;
  • Felidae;
  • finite element analysis;
  • Hyaenidae;
  • Langebaanweg;
  • mandibular symphysis

Ecomorphologies are categories of ecological adaptation and function, although intermediates are not always available to shed light on functionality at the transitional stages between them. We examined an intermediate bone-cracking carnivoran ecomorphology, the stem hyaenine Ikelohyaena abronia, using finite element analysis. Skull models of Ikelohyaena, crown hyaenine Crocuta crocuta, and two other hypercarnivores were simulated with mastication and prey apprehension forces. The results obtained show that Ikelohyaena already possessed derived features in skull stress distribution and levels of strain energy, characteristic of the extant bone-cracking Crocuta; however, the estimated bite forces in Ikelohyaena were significantly lower. Prey apprehension simulations showed similar patterns; the low skull strain energy and low bite force of the Ikelohyaena mandible indicate a poor individual ability to take down large prey. The mosaic features of craniodental function in Ikelohyaena suggest that initial evolution of the hyaenid bone-cracking ecomorphology involved skull shape changes that increased stress dissipation, permitting incorporation of more hard food into the diet. Subsequent evolution of larger bite forces was then required to increase the size limit of bones that can be cracked and consumed. This mode of evolution would have allowed transitional hyaenid ecomorphologies to continuously increase the carcass processing ability both during competitive feeding and scavenging throughout their evolution. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 102, 540–559.