Is extreme bite performance associated with extreme morphologies in sharks?
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Physiological and biochemical zoology. - Chicago, Ill.
, p. 20-28
University of Antwerp
As top predators in many oceanic communities, sharks are known to eat large prey and are supposedly able to generate high bite forces. This notion has, however, largely gone untested due to the experimental intractability of these animals. For those species that have been investigated, it remains unclear whether their high bite forces are simply a consequence of their large body size or the result of diet-related adaptation. As aquatic poikilotherms, sharks can grow very large, making them ideal subjects with which to investigate the effects of body size on bite force. Relative bite-force capacity is often associated with changes in head shape because taller or wider heads can, for example, accommodate larger jaw muscles. Constraints on bite force in general may also be released by changes in tooth shape. For example, more pointed teeth may allow a predator to penetrate prey more effectively than blunt, pavementlike teeth. Our analyses show that large sharks do not bite hard for their body size, but they generally have larger heads. Head width is the best predictor of bite force across the species included in our study as indicated by a multiple regression model. Contrary to our predictions, sharks with relatively high bite forces for their body size also have relatively more pointed teeth at the front of the tooth row. Moreover, species including hard prey in their diet are characterized by high bite forces and narrow and pointed teeth at the jaw symphysis.