Degenerate dentition of the dugong (Dugong dugon), or why a grazer does not need teeth: morphology, occlusion and wear of mouthparts


Janet Lanyon, School of Integrative Biology, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia Tel: (07) 3365 4416; Fax: (07) 3365 1655


The morphology and functional occlusion of the cheekteeth of 57 dugongs Dugong dugon of both sexes were examined using reflected light and scanning electron microscopy, radiography, hardness testing and skull manipulation. The functional morphology of the horny oral pads was also described. Mouthparts and body size allometry was examined for ontogenetic and gender-related trends. We found that the worn erupted cheekteeth of the dugong are simple flat pegs composed of soft degenerative dentine. During occlusion, the mandible moves in a mainly antero-lingual direction, with the possibility of mandibular retraction in some individuals. Anterior parts of the cheektooth row may become non-functional as a dugong ages. As a function of body size, dugong cheekteeth are extremely small compared with those of other mammalian herbivores, and with other hindgut fermenters in particular. The morphology, small size and occlusal variability of the cheekteeth suggest that there has not been strong selective pressure acting to maintain an effective dentition. In contrast, great development of the horny pads and associated skull parameters and their lower size variability suggest that the horny pads may have assumed the major role in food comminution.