Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Biting and bones

Two articles I saw yesterday, one in Smithsonian and the other in the New York Times, each discussed the strength of an animal's bite in comparison to its skull. Biomechanics expert Karl Bates of the University of Liverpool and paleontologist Peter Falkingham of the Royal Veterinary College recently used 3D digital modeling to reassess the bite of the Tyrannosaurus rex, until now extrapolated from crocodile bites or fossil tooth marks. The results indicated that the fearsome dinosaur's jaws were a lot stronger than previously thought. While a juvenile T. rex had a bite strength of 880 psi (comparable to a lion at 660 psi, the skull of which is depicted above), an adult had bite strength of 12,800 psi, making it the hardest-biting terrestrial animal ever known. “The posterior part of the skull that housed the muscles was particularly large, even for an animal of its colossal size,” says Bates. The bite strength of the full-grown T. rex dwarfs that of the American alligator (2,125 psi), the great white shark (4,000 psi), and the Nile crocodile (5,000 psi). But when size is taken into account, the piranha comes out on top, with a bite strength of 69 psi that is 30 times its weight. In the new book about his collection of more than 1,000 skulls, Alan Dudley points to the sagittal crest as the indicator of jaw strength. "If you come across an otherwise modest animal with a large sagittal crest — a coati-mundi, for instance — you’d do well to avoid it, or at least to keep it happy..."

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