Feeding biomechanics and bite force in bull sharks during ontogeny

Published online on 02. October 2012

Feeding biomechanics and theoretical calculations of bite force in bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) during ontogeny

Maria L. Habeggera, Philip J. Mottaa, Daniel R. Huberb, Mason N. Dean


Evaluations of bite force, either measured directly or calculated theoretically, have been used to investigate the maximum feeding performance of a wide variety of vertebrates. However, bite force studies of fishes have focused primarily on small species due to the intractable nature of large apex predators. More massive muscles can generate higher forces and many of these fishes attain immense sizes; it is unclear how much of their biting performance is driven purely by dramatic ontogenetic increases in body size versus size-specific selection for enhanced feeding performance. In this study, we investigated biting performance and feeding biomechanics of immature and mature individuals from an ontogenetic series of an apex predator, the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas (73–285 cm total length). Theoretical bite force ranged from 36 to 2128 N at the most anterior bite point, and 170 to 5914 N at the most posterior bite point over the ontogenetic series. Scaling patterns differed among the two age groups investigated; immature bull shark bite force scaled with positive allometry, whereas adult bite force scaled isometrically. When the bite force of C. leucas was compared to those of 12 other cartilaginous fishes, bull sharks presented the highest mass-specific bite force, greater than that of the white shark or the great hammerhead shark. A phylogenetic independent contrast analysis of anatomical and dietary variables as determinants of bite force in these 13 species indicated that the evolution of large adult bite forces in cartilaginous fishes is linked predominantly to the evolution of large body size. Multiple regressions based on mass-specific standardized contrasts suggest that the evolution of high bite forces in Chondrichthyes is further correlated with hypertrophication of the jaw adductors, increased leverage for anterior biting, and widening of the head. Lastly, we discuss the ecological significance of positive allometry in bite force as a possible “performance gain” early in the life history of C. leucas.

Zoology. Article in Press, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.zool.2012.04.007




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