Ontogeny of feeding mechanics in smoothhound sharks: Morphology and cartilage stiffness

Cheryl A D Wilga, Stephanye E. Diniz, Preston R. Steele, Jordan Sudario-Cook, Elizabeth R. Dumont, Lara Ferry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The diet of dusky smoothhound sharks, Mustelus canis, shifts over ontogeny from soft foods to a diet dominated by crabs. This may be accompanied by changes in the skeletal system that facilitates the capture and processing of large and bulky prey. The hyoid arch, for example, braces the jaws against the cranium, and generates suction for prey capture and intraoral transport. In this study, ontogenetic changes in the hyoid arch were investigated by quantifying size, mineralization, and stiffness to determine whether increasingly stiffer cartilages are associated with the dietary switch. Total length and length of the hyomandibula and ceratohyal cartilages over ontogeny were the proxy for body size. Cross-sectional area, percent mineralization, and second moment of area were quantified in 28 individuals spanning most of the natural size range. Mechanical compression tests were conducted to compare flexural stiffness to size. Our results show that the morphological characters tested for the hyomandibular and ceratohyal cartilages scales isometrically with length. While stiffness of the hyomandibular and ceratohyal cartilages scales isometrically with length when assessed on morphological characters alone (second moment of area), this relationship becomes allometric when mechanical properties are included (flexural stiffness). Thus, while the hyoid arch elements grow isometrically, the mechanical properties dictate a scaling relationship that dwarfs morphological characteristics. The various combinations of morphologies and ontogenetic trajectories of chondrichthyan species illustrate the tremendous flexibility that they possess in the functional organization of the feeding apparatus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-448
Number of pages7
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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