Ontogenetic changes in jaw-muscle architecture facilitate durophagy in the turtle Sternotherus minor

Joseph B. Pfaller, Paul M. Gignac, Gregory M. Erickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Differential scaling of musculoskeletal traits leads to differences in performance across ontogeny and ultimately determines patterns of resource use during development. Because musculoskeletal growth of the feeding system facilitates high bite-force generation necessary to overcome the physical constraints of consuming more durable prey, durophagous taxa are well suited for investigations of the scaling relationships between musculoskeletal growth, bite-force generation and dietary ontogeny. To elucidate which biomechanical factors are responsible for allometric changes in bite force and durophagy, we developed and experimentally tested a static model of bite-force generation throughout development in the durophagous turtle Sternotherus minor. Moreover, we quantified the fracture properties of snails found in the diet to evaluate the relationship between bite force and the forces required to process durable prey. We found that (1) the static bite-force model accurately predicts the ontogenetic scaling of bite forces, (2) biteforce positive allometry is accomplished by augmenting muscle size and muscle pennation, and (3) the rupture forces of snails found in the diet show a similar scaling pattern to bite force across ontogeny. These results indicate the importance of muscle pennation for generating high bite forces while maintaining muscle size and provide empirical evidence that the allometric patterns of musculoskeletal growth in S. minor are strongly linked to the structural properties of their primary prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1655-1667
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Biomechanics
  • Bite force
  • Feeding
  • Muscle architecture
  • Pennation
  • Turtles


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