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Keywords:

  • behaviour;
  • feeding ecology;
  • finite element;
  • Varanus komodoensis

Abstract

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) displays a unique hold and pull-feeding technique. Its delicate ‘space-frame’ skull morphology differs greatly from that apparent in most living large prey specialists and is suggestive of a high degree of optimization, wherein use of materials is minimized. Here, using high-resolution finite element modelling based on dissection and in vivo bite and pull data, we present results detailing the mechanical performance of the giant lizard's skull. Unlike most modern predators, V. komodoensis applies minimal input from the jaw muscles when butchering prey. Instead it uses series of actions controlled by postcranial muscles. A particularly interesting feature of the performance of the skull is that it reveals considerably lower overall stress when these additional extrinsic forces are added to those of the jaw adductors. This remarkable reduction in stress in response to additional force is facilitated by both internal and external bone anatomy. Functional correlations obtained from these analyses also provide a solid basis for the interpretation of feeding ecology in extinct species, including dinosaurs and sabre-tooth cats, with which V. komodoensis shares various cranial and dental characteristics.